SOUTH HADLEY – Morgan Smith and Rebecca Skoler are familiar opponents.
The two golfers faced each other three years ago, during the 2019 Mass. Women’s Amateur Championship. Both qualified for match play then, and Skoler knocked Smith out in the quarterfinals with a 3 & 2 win.
Fast forward a few years, and the two now find themselves going head-to-head with the championship of the 119th edition of the event on the line at The Orchards Golf Club.
Things will look much different the second time. This time around, Smith has been the clear favorite from the very first tee. She led the field after stroke play, setting a stroke play record with a two-day 4-under-140 score for medalist honors and the No. 1 seed in match play.
“I don’t think I’ve played with her in a few years, so it should be fun,” Skoler said on her rematch with Smith. “She’s a great player. She’s had a great summer. ”
The 18-hole championship round between Smith and Skoler tees off on Friday at 7:30 am
Smith has been untouchable on the golf course. She led stroke play both days, and hasn’t set foot on holes 17 or 18 since Tuesday because she’s beaten her opponents in match play by a wide enough margin that she didn’t need to play them.
It’s a massive turnaround for the 18-year-old golfer who plays out of Vesper Country Club in Tyngsborough, and it comes as a relief for her after a difficult 2021 campaign.
“If you want to talk about confidence – last summer was the most defeating golf summer of my entire life,” Smith said. “I started working out, two hours a day, six days a week, all winter long. Now I’m hitting a 240 [yard drive]I can hit some of the par five’s in two [and] I’m feeling a lot stronger on the golf course. ”
The results are showing for Smith, and it’s not just the physical part of her game that’s improved. Mentally, she looked confident all week, never letting a bad iron shot or missed putt rattle her. She’ll look to cap off her phenomenal week on Friday, with younger sister Maddie serving as her caddie once again after managing her bag during the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
Skoler, meanwhile, has had a much rockier road to the championship match. While Smith has been sailing through the week with apparent ease, the second-seeded Skoler, of Needham, had to battle back from the brink in her semifinal match against No. 7 Emma Abramson.
Abramson was the youngest golfer left in the field at 16 years old, but she played beyond her years against the 20-year-old Skoler, who felt like she just had to ‘survive’ the entire match with Abramson.
“She’s awesome. She (hits) pretty straight, and she made a ton of puts today… We had a great competition, ”said Skoler, a rising junior on the University of Virginia golf team. “It was definitely tough. I tried to keep sticking with it, tried to stay positive and trust my game. ”
Skoler held the lead after the front nine, going into the back nine 1-Up over Abramson. She won the 13th hole, taking a two-hole lead, but Abramson responded by winning 14 and 15, evening the score with three holes to play.
After splitting the 16th hole, Skoler and Abramson both started No. 17 on the wrong foot, sending their tee shots sailing over the green and into the rough on the par 3. With her back against the wall, Skoler hit a textbook flop shot that rolled within an inch of the pin, good enough to secure a tap-in par. Abramson’s shot rolled several feet past the hole, and she missed her putt for par, giving Skoler the 1-Up cushion with one hole to play.
“It needed like one more roll to go in. But it was a good par considering we were both in pretty difficult positions, ”Skoler said. “I’m super comfortable with that flop shot and felt really good over it. And so that gave me a little bit momentum heading into 18. ”
Skoler and Abramson played the 18th hole even, giving Skoler the 1-Up win and a ticket to the championship round. While Skoler is familiar with match play in the Women’s Am, this marks the first time that she’s been one of the last two golfers standing.
“I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. This is the first time I’ve ever made it to the finals, ”Skoler said. “I lost last year in the quarters and two years before that in the semis. (I’m going to) go have fun and enjoy making it to the finals. ”