Lugoff’s Murphy, Lexington’s Stephenson competing in U.S. Women’s Amateur this week.

08/03/2013 10:43 PM

08/03/2013 10:44 PM

Their golf schedules can be a head-scratching puzzle, almost impossible to follow. They hop-scotch from this tournament to that one — from Manning to Fort Wayne or maybe Okatie to Chateau Elan to Pinehurst — and, generally, make their presence felt among the leaders.

Now, the “Big One” is here for Kelli Murphy and Lauren Stephenson. The area teens have a date in Charleston for the U.S. Women’s Amateur this week before ending their summer and returning to high school.

Excited? You bet!

“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” said Murphy, a rising senior at Lugoff-Elgin High. “I can’t wait.”

Stephenson, who will be a junior at Lexington High this fall, echoed those thoughts, and that’s not the only thing the two players share. Both have played the Country Club of Charleston course numerous times.

“It sets up well for me, and I have played well there,” said Stephenson, who has played more of a national schedule this summer and owns one AJGA tourney victory.

Their experience could pay off, especially on the putting surfaces, said Murphy, No. 1 in the South Carolina Junior Golf Association rankings with three victories — including the Carolina Junior Girls tourney at match play — this year.

“The greens at Charleston are tricky; you need to put the ball in the right places,” she said. “If you miss and are putting from the wrong tier, you’re going to struggle.”

The best in women’s amateur golf will play stroke-play rounds Monday and Tuesday, and the low 64 will advance into match play through the remainder of the week. In addition to Murphy and Stephenson, South Carolina players in the field include Dawn Woodard (Greer), Lily Bartell (Hilton Head Island), Anne Marie Covar (Edgefield), Katy Funk (Spartanburg), McKenzie Talbert (North Augusta), Katelyn Dambaugh (Goose Creek/USC), Ashlan Ramsey (Clemson) and Sloan Shanahan (Clemson).

“I’m playing pretty well,” said Murphy, who led the Carolinas team in scoring in the Mid-Atlantic Girls’ Challenge in Pinehurst last weekend and played in the Georgia-South Carolina matches at Seabrook Island before moving on to Charleston. “I’m just hitting the ball so solid right now.”

Stephenson, too, likes the state of her game, and her instructor, Kevin Britt, concurs.

“She’s a great ball-striker and has a very fine all around game,” said Britt, who has worked with Stephenson, 16, for eight years. “She has such a competitive spirit, something that she’s had since she was a little kid. In terms of competitiveness, she’s one of the best, and she’s playing well right now.”

Their taxing schedules have kept them on the go much of the summer. Murphy bounced from the U.S. Junior Girls in Fort Wayne, Ind., to the SCJGA’s Blade in Greer to the Mid-Atlantic team matches in Pinehurst in one exhausting 12-day stretch. A year ago, she traveled to California and reached the quarterfinals in the U.S. Junior Girls. Her calendar is one of her best friends.

The schedule is a blur for Stephenson, too. Her stops include the U.S. Junior Girls in Indiana and AJGA events at Okatie — she set the women’s course record at Chechewssee Creek in winning that tourney — and Cape Giradeau, Mo. — a fifth-place finish in the Rolex Junior Girls championship.

They know competition. Stephenson has been a four-year starter on Lexington’s powerhouse prep teams and has made all-state three times. Murphy has played on the Lugoff-Elgin boys’ team since the seventh grade.

And now they step on their biggest stage yet. They will be in the field with the best of the best in the Big One, the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and there’s no better measuring stick for their games.

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