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Amateurs have shot at breaking 53-year drought at U.S. Women’s Open

It has been 53 years since an amateur has won the U.S. Women’s Open. That could change this weekend.

More than half a century after Catherine Lacoste of France won in 1967 at The Homestead, two amateurs, Linn Grant and Kaitlyn Papp, sit within five-strokes of the 36-hole lead.

Grant, who also contended at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek but faded to a T-57 on the weekend, sits solo second after back-to-back rounds of 69. She’s at 4 under par. Papp, a Texas native enjoying a trip around her home state, sits T-3 with rounds of 71-68.

Hinako Shibuno leads the way at 7 under par. The three will play in the final group on Saturday at Champions Golf Club.

U.S. Women’s Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage

“I feel like the past two days I’ve proven to myself that I belong here,” Papp said Friday after playing Cypress Creek, one of two par-71 courses in rotation over the first two rounds. “I’ve worked hard on distance off the tee and just trying to be more consistent with my irons, so I feel like it’s paying off here at Champions.”

Papp, who graduated last week from the University of Texas, was a leader for her team. Women’s head coach Ryan Murphy told that she has an incredible work ethic and dedication to the game. “She doesn’t skip days,” Murphy said, and credits the 22-year-old for reviving the Longhorns’ program.

“Kaitlyn resurrected our program at Texas,” Murphy said via email. “I am incredibly thankful that she did. Good players followed her to Texas and since her arrival we have won about 12 tournaments. She started the ascension to where we are currently.”

When the 22-year-old Lacoste won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1967, there wasn’t the infrastructure of the women’s college golf program that the United States boasts today. Women from around the world come to the States to join college teams at all NCAA division levels.

“I feel like college golf really prepares us for the next level and to play well in championships like this,” Papp said. “For the girls who are coming from overseas, there’s been a lot of playing opportunities. I feel like with this whole COVID year we’ve all had the chance to get better at our golf games.”

Grant is from Sweden, but is currently a sophomore at Arizona State University. College golf offers young women the opportunity to hone their skills, learn how to compete at an elite level, navigate being away from home and live in a foreign country. They also learn how to communicate with the media. The result is a generation of amateurs who are confident, poised and well-spoken and not intimidated to go head-to-head with the stars of the LPGA Tour.

“We’ve been raised looking at a lot of good players, and we’ve been able to look at them through like Instagram and see what they do, and we just copy what they do,” Grant said Friday after playing the Jackrabbit course. “When we feel that we’ve reached that level, we kind of move on, and I think it’s the same for the generations coming after us. I think people are just going to get better.”

Six of the 24 amateurs in the field made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. Joining Grant and Papp is Maja Stark from Oklahoma State University, who celebrated a birthday this week with a hole-out for eagle on Friday. She’s even for the championship.

Ingrid Lindblad (1 under) from Louisiana State University, Pauline Roussin-Bouchard (even) from the University of South Carolina, and Gabriela Ruffels (1 over) from the University of Southern California will also play the weekend.