GUILDERLAND — The sensational summer of Altamont native Kennedy Swedick took another special step Friday in the opening round of the Symetra Tour’s Twin Bridges Championship Friday at Pinehaven Country Club.
Swedick, the 14-year-old Albany Academy student who plays well beyond her years, bounced back from a pair of double bogeys on the front nine to shoot even-par on the back nine, including three birdies on the last four holes, for a solid 5-over-par 76.
Meanwhile, 25-year-old Maddie McCrary, an Oklahoma State graduate who has 15 starts on the LPGA Tour as well as two top-10s and $37,349 in career earnings on the Symetra Tour, took the opening-round lead with a 5-under-par 66 that included six birdies and just one bogey. Canadian Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, who has 23 career top-10s, was second with a 67 that included five birdies, while Binny Lee was third with a 68. Ten players broke par in the first of three rounds in the longest-running tournament of the LPGA’s developmental tour.
Playing in her first professional event on a special sponsor’s exemption, Swedick sparkled when she had to. Her iron play let her down occasionally, as did her putter, but she drove the ball well and made some clutch birdies to salvage her round. Between 40 and 50 spectators followed her around the course and cheered her on the whole way.
Swedick was generally happy with her round, although her frustrations flashed briefly on the few times things didn’t go according to plan. The first Section II girls’ individual champion and former national finalist in the Drive, Chip & Putt competition kept a smile on her face and continued to bounce back from adversity.
“It was just that the putts weren’t falling,” she said. “I had a couple of hiccups with my drives, but I had lot of fun out there, and I didn’t let those things get to me.”
Although Swedick is already a veteran of numerous major junior championships, this was her first time playing with professionals, and being a little nervous was certainly expected from the youngest competitor in the 144-player field.
“I was nervous,” she admitted. “This was my first professional event, but I’ve done this first tee shot thing so many times. This was just another one of them. I was trying to be positive and not let those things creep in. I was concentrating on just having fun and not thinking about how I was playing. I had to stay in my game.”
Swedick’s opening tee shot was ripped down the middle of the fairway, and she reached the first green with an approach shot of about 165 yards. She then two-putted from 30 feet for a solid par.
But the second hole cost her a couple of shots after her tee shot faded into the trees in the right rough. She tried to chip out, but the chip went long and rolled into the penalty area. Swedick still had a chance to hit her third shot from the water, but after a long discussion with her caddie and instructor, NENY PGA pro Anders Mattson, she decided to take a penalty drop and play her fourth shot from just off the greens. Unfortunately, her chip was a little too aggressive, and she ended up two-putting for a double bogey.
“I told her to take her shoes off and get in the water to hit it,” said Mattson with a grin. “But it came down to her decision to make. I said if you can get the ball on the green, go for it, but she didn’t feel comfortable in that. So, she took the penalty. It’s only the second hole, and you don’t want to make an 8. I probably would have hit it, but it wasn’t the risk she wanted at that time.”
Swedick missed the green on the par-3 third hole and settled for a bogey, but she made par on the next three holes. However, she suffered her second double bogey on the par-4 seventh hole when she hit her tee shot left, chipped out and missed the green.
Swedick recovered to par the next two holes, but missed out on an opportunity for her first birdie when her 12-foot birdie try from the fringe came up just short on the par-3 ninth hole.
She fell to 6-over-par with a bogey on the 10th hole. Swedick also bogeyed the 14th and 16th holes, but she birdied the 15th, 17th and 18th holes to salvage her round. Her approach shot on the 18th hole settled two feet from the cup.
The course played a longer than 6,500 yards, and the recent rain made it play even longer. But Swedick was up to the challenge.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Swedick said. “My drives were pretty good. I was trying not to think about the distance, but having that many 5-irons [into the greens] was definitely a factor. Coming into this tournament, my irons were kind of funky. I spent a lot of time on the range, and I think I figured it out. But I’m glad the last couple of putts fell.”
All in all, this was another special experience for the young phenom.
“I had a lot of fun last week, and this week. [Saturday] I just hope the putts fall and that I have a lot of fun,” she said about her expectations for the second round. “I want to thank Mr. Miller [local tournament director Jim Miller] for the opportunity to play in this. I was just really grateful for all the support I was given. The crowd was just great. I’m having an amazing time.”
Swedick had already won several local junior events this summer. Last week, she competed in the prestigious U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland. After finishing tied for 21st in the qualifying round, she won her opening match before bowing to Katie Li.
Next week, she’s headed to the Junior PGA Championship after qualifying from the Northeastern New York PGA section.
Her coach and caddie is extremely impressed with his star student. “A lot of positives can be taken out of that round today,” Mattson said. “She hit some awesome golf shots. She shows up when she needs to. She missed some putts, but that’s to be expected. Other than that, she was just awesome.
“She was pretty comfortable right from the get to. She was ready to play the whole time. She got some better looks [for birdie] coming in, and she knew what was out there. I told her there were two par-5s and a good pin on No. 18. It kept her motivated even though she was a little down on herself. She’s a fighter.”
Mattson said Swedick’s goal is to make the cut today for Sunday’s final round. It won’t be easy.
“She wants to make the cut, and we had a conversion about that,” Mattson said. “We were joking that the last time she shot 76 was last week [in the U.S. Junior Amateur]. She had a 69 in the next round.”
Other top players included Samantha Wagner (69), Rachel Rohanna (69), Breanne Jones (69), Fernanda Lira (69), Dorsey Addicks (69), Min-G Kim (69), Prima Thammarak (70), Lilia Vu (70), Regina Plasencia (70), Carley Cox (70), Katharine Patrick (70), Lisa Petterson (70), Lakareber Abe (70), Yaeeun Hong (70), August Kim (70) and Roberta Liti (70).
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].
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