Date: July 26, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

Mahar holds nerve at US Girls’

You can take her out of Australia, but you can't take the Aussie out of Emily Mahar.

So it was with patriotic pride today that the John Senden-inspired Mahar advanced to the match play phase of the US Girls' Junior championship after a gripping afternoon at Boone Valley Golf Club in Missouri.

After her opening three-over round yesterday left her comfortably inside the top-64 to advance after the 36-hole stroke play qualifier, the Arizona-based Queenslander fumbled early, leaving her in a tense battle throughout her second round.

Only a quality nine-iron with a 123m carry from sand over water to set up a closing par ensured her qualification at her third and final try at the world's premier girls' junior event.

But just as there was relief for Mahar, who will be the No.63 seed in match play after finishing at +9, there was heartache for Sydney's Steph Kyriacou.

The St Michael's member, after a flat +7 start, was still at eight over with six holes to play. But the New South Wales state team member fell agonisingly one stroke on the wrong side of the +10 in T68 after doubling the 13th and making another bogey on the 15th.

Mahar, 18, had the luxury of dropping three shots on the fourth and fifth holes without panic.

But a second double-bogey on the 10th and a bogey on the 13th left her on the brink of falling at the stroke play hurdle for a third time in her junior career.

"I was upset with how I began my round today and I made a few pretty simple mistakes that weren't good," Mahar confessed after her round.

"Then it was OK for a while until those holes (10 and 13) and then it was pretty crazy. Things definitely escalated there for a while."

A brilliant birdie two on the 16th eased fears and had Mahar back at eight over  — her pre-round worst-case target — with two to play.

But immediately she gave back the cushion with a bogey on the par-four 17th, leaving a tense ride up the final hole, especially after her drive found the sand right of the fairway.

"It was a water carry from there, so I knew I couldn't afford to catch it heavy or flub it, so I made sure I hit it a tiny bit thin to get up on to the green and from there I just made the two putts and it was done," she said.

"I'd obviously hoped to be higher up than 63, but it really doesn't matter as long as I'm in that top 64."

Mahar remarkably first qualified for this event aged 13, then again at 15, but had not reached the knockout phase.

"I'm really happy to have made it. I didn't know what to expect the first time, but when I missed out the second time … and didn't qualify last year, I thought I was done.

"But they changed the rules (of eligibility back a year), so I've been able to take advantage and finally make it. It's great."

Mahar, about to begin studies on a full golf scholarship to the Virginia Tech, has been in the United States for golf and family reasons since late 2012.

But she's still as proudly Australian as you could imagine, toting kangaroo and koala head covers, an Aussie flag ball marker and a special towel wrapped around her bag.

"My grandma buys these huge Aussie flag towels you can only get on Australia Day every year and brings them over to me, so I use that on the course, too," Mahar beamed.

"Everyone knows I'm a proud Aussie."

Mahar learnt her trade at Keperra Country Golf Club in Brisbane's north-western suburbs before the family moved.

She "loves match play" and can't wait to face promising Thai second seed Paphangkorn Tavatanakit when it begins in earnest tomorrow.

"I played pennants, junior and women's at Keperra when I was younger and I've always really liked it.

"I haven't played against (Tavatanakit) yet, but I'm looking forward to it."

Mahar said she had been "inspired" by watching Keperra's favourite son, Senden, during a clinic he gave at his home club.

"He gave a lesson to us all and then hit a few shots and drives up the first … it was great to watch, I've never forgotten it.

"I'm definitely still a Queenslander, a very proud Maroon."

Mahar's a two-time Junior Golf Association of Arizona player of the year and has 13 top-10 finishes in American Junior Golf Association and JGAA events, including four victories and three runner-up finishes since December 2015.