Weather delays and being unaware of the actual number of qualifiers left Marissa Steen’s United States Women’s Open qualifying experience fraught with uncertainty.
The 2008 Lakota West High School graduate went to Shannopin Country Club near Pittsburgh believing that only two golfers would qualify out of the May 3 event for the Open, scheduled June 2-5 at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in central North Carolina.
“When I posted my score, I looked at the leaderboard, and I was third,” Steen said on Wednesday from New Jersey, where she was preparing for the LPGA’s Cognizant Founders Cup. “There was word going around on Monday that they were taking three qualifiers, but I hadn’t heard that. My caddy and I were talking to a couple of other golfers we know, and I said, ‘I need someone to falter.’ They said, ‘What are you talking about? They’re taking three.’
“For me, that was a huge sigh of relief.”
As it turned out, Steen didn’t need the extra spot. The 10-year pro, playing a remarkably consistent game that featured effective putting, shot a 1-under par 71-70 – 141 to finish second, three strokes behind the leader one ahead of the two women who tied for third.
“I was really excited,” said Steen, who also qualified for the 2014 and 2017 Opens. “Last year, I missed by one stroke.”
The West Chester native was 14 when she started playing golf. She was named second-team all-Greater Miami Conference and was a first-team all-GMC pick as a sophomore and senior. The only year she didn’t make the all-conference team was 2006, but she compensated by helping the Firebirds win the Division I state champion.
Steen enjoyed a standout collegiate career at the University of Memphis, also winning the 2011 Cincinnati Women’s Met before turning pro in 2012. She has played on the secondary Symetra and Epson tours before earning her LPGA card, becoming the first Memphis product to reach the top level.
She has overcome rib and ankle injuries to also play in the British and Australian opens.
The U.S. Open qualifying tournament usually involves playing two 18-hole rounds in one day, but two weather delays on May 3 forced organizers to push the last part of the second round to May 4. Steen was preparing to putt on the 12th hole when sirens sounded to stop play. She returned the next day to sink the putt and finish out rounds that included three birdies and two bogeys over 36 holes. That adds up to an efficient 31 pars.
“I was just playing steady and trying to minimize mistakes,” said Steen, who is coached by Tim Lambert of the Tim Lambert Golf Academy in Lebanon. “They usually play the qualifiers at tough courses, so I think it helps your chances to qualify if you don’t try to make a lot of birdies.
“I was putting pretty good,” she added. “Generally, I’m a pretty good ball-striker, but on the LPGA Tour, my putting’s been holding me back. I was able to get it going.”
Her primary concern was maintaining her consistency despite the interruptions in play.
“That’s always a factor, right?” she said. “When you have to come back the next day and finish the round, it stops your momentum. Unfortunately, we had the second interruption when we were just getting back in the groove after the first suspension. We were kind of getting in a groove, then they blow the horn again.”
It may have helped that she remained focused on her game.
“They had live scoring, but I didn’t look at the leaderboard until I finished both rounds,” she said. “I had no idea where I stood when I woke up Wednesday morning.”
Steen played at Pine Needles while in college, where she earned a Sports Management degree.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “I went back and found my yardage books from college. I don’t remember specific holes, but I remember thinking it was a great course. The greens are challenging. It’s a classic North Carolina layout – lots of rolling hills and pine trees.”
Steen, who lives in New Madison, west of Dayton, hopes that her U.S. Open qualifying performance is another positive step in her career. She has three career top-10 finishes and career earnings of $432,021.
“It’s hard to believe it’s my 10th season,” she said. “I’ve been playing pro golf a lot longer than I thought I would. This season has been challenging from the start – just one cut out of six. Qualifying was nice. Sometimes, you just need that one thing to propel you forward.
“Golf is a funny game. You never know when it’s all going to come together. The qualifier felt like that.”