ATLANTA – There’s not much quite like the life of a Symetra Tour professional.
Former Buff Jess Wallace, in her third year on the tour, knows this all too well. That’s why, after finishing the Friends of Mission Charity Classic in Asheville, N.C., she drove to Atlanta’s Dunwoody Country Club to try and qualify for the 2014 United States Women’s Open. After becoming the first player in program history to successfully qualfy for the Open, she immediately returned to the Tar Heel state for this week’s Symetra Classic in Charlotte.
Qualify she did, and in dramatic fashion. After driving through the night, her 12 hour day began at 8 a.m. in dense fog on a course she’d never seen before and it happened to be the longest course (6,800 yards) she’s ever played.
“It’s a really nice course,” Wallace said. “The longest I’ve ever played. I drove down from Asheville Sunday night, and if it wasn’t for my caddie, Darcy Donaldson, there’s no way I could’ve done it without him, that’s for sure.”
Donaldson, who had caddied for Wallace before, is the women’s coach at nearby Georgia Southwestern. While Wallace was finishing up in Asheville Sunday, Donaldson was walking the course in Atlanta, getting yardages and the proper lines off the tees.
“I got there this morning and he walked me through it,” Wallace said.
Her first round did get off to a bit of a rough start. She was 5-over par through eight holes in the foggy conditions.
“I was surprised we even went off with the fog, the ball wasn’t going anywhere, it was playing even longer and I struggled,” Wallace said. “But then I birdied the ninth hole and that really settled me down, I was in a rough patch. I managed to play even the rest of that round and there wasn’t a single score under par, so I figured if I put together a good second round, I’d have a shot.”
Wallace started her second round at 1:30 p.m. and went under par early in the round. After giving a couple of stokes back, she chipped in on her 11th hole to go back under par. She then 3-putted her 16h hole, but made a 10-foot par on her 17th hole and then a 20-foot birdie to close out her round at 1-under par.
“I was pretty upset when I 3-putted, I really shouldn’t have done that,” Wallace said. “But I saved par on the 17th hole and on the 18th I looked at my caddie and said ‘I think I may need this,’ and drained it.”
She didn’t know it at the moment, but that 20-footer proved to be the difference of qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open. Finishing about 6:30 p.m., she had to wait another 90 minutes for the rest of the field to come in to know if she had won and to stay mentally prepared for a possible playoff.
“It was quite the dramatic day,” Wallace said en route back to Charlotte Monday night. “Very long and very tiring. Needless to say I’m very excited.”
Wallace’s is in the middle of a 10 week stretch with nine Symetra Tour events that began in South Florida in March and slowly stretches up through South Carolina, North Carolina and eventually to Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.
“It’s been an up-and-down year,” Wallace said. “But I’ve been making cuts and improving week by week, so I’m excited about that. There’s a lot going on right now with this qualifying and playing week after week. I feel good about my game, I’m improving every week and obviously it came together today.”
The U.S. Open will force Wallace to miss just one Symetra Tour event. As the tour reaches the northern Midwest, she will play in the Decatur-Forsyth Classic in Illinois before coming back to North Carolina for the 69th U.S. Women’s Open Championship on June 19-22, at the famous Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C. She will then most likely hit the road right after the Open to get to Harris, Mich., in time for the Sweetgrass Gofl Club on June 27-29, the final of those nine events in 10 weeks.
“Normally, I’d like to go to the location of the tournament and get a look at the course,” Wallace said. “But the men’s U.S. Open is on the same course the week before. I can’t get on the course any earlier anyway, so I’ll play the Illinois event and head back down here to North Carolina.”
She has made the cut in four of her last five Symetra Tour events and is coming off her season best of 36th place in Asheville last weekend. She made the cut seven times in 15 events last year and in three of eight events in a shortened rookie season in 2012.