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Strong field for The Donna Andrews Invitational aids in golf's return to the area

Strong field for The Donna Andrews Invitational aids in golf's return to the area

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Kaitlyn Mosdell and Kathryn Ha spent about a half hour at the Boonsboro Country Club driving range Friday, separated by an empty slot, just like they did two weeks prior at Hidden Valley Country Club in a junior girls tournament.

The Roanoke junior golfers were already back in the rhythm of playing competitively on a consistent basis thanks to the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls (PKBG) Golf Tour Valley Junior Girls event.

“It kind of helped to get me back,” Mosdell, a rising senior at Lord Botetourt High School, said.

For others, like The Donna Andrews Invitational favorite Lauren Greenlief, the practice times leading into today’s opening round at Boonsboro are different. Those golfers are shaking off the rust and gearing up for their first competitive event since the coronavirus pandemic brought the sports world to a grinding halt back in March.

The three-day invitational serves as the first major golf tournament in the area after other events — highlighted by the Fox Puss Invitational at Boonsboro — were either postponed or canceled because of COVID-19.

“I think it’s just honestly mental preparation and just getting yourself back in the swing of things,” said Payton Smith, an incoming freshman at the University of Lynchburg. “You’ve got to be easy on yourself, but at the same time, it’s all about practicing every day.”

The players in the tournament’s second edition are allowed to bring one or two supporters for each round, according to Boonsboro head golf professional Aaron Marks, and spectators won’t be allowed to rent carts, ensuring adequate spacing throughout the sprawling 18-hole layout.

There are signs posted throughout the course that mandate 6 feet of social distancing and, with Virginia remaining in Phase 2 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to reopen the commonwealth until Wednesday, gatherings are limited to 50 people.

“Frankly, if you’re going to observe 6 feet of social distancing, you can’t fit 50 people around a green anyways,” Marks said.

Boonsboro has made numerous changes to adhere to all safety guidelines for the three-day tournament. All banquets have been canceled; food is available on a to-go basis; each player is encouraged to walk or ride solo in a cart (her caddie is allowed to ride in the cart); players have been instructed to sanitize their hands immediately after using rakes on the course (individual rakes are also being provided for players to use throughout the rounds); and flag sticks are being sprayed with a material used in spas that kills germs for 24 hours to allow players to remove flags from holes if they feel comfortable.

Marks said in a list of guidelines sent to players there will be no high-fives, fistbumps are discouraged, and interactions should be limited to verbal communication.

“It may be a little tricky, and you’ve seen that a little on the PGA Tour,” Marks said. “Sometimes the guys go to give high-fives and then they stop because they realize that they can’t do that. It’s up to each player to kind of take those precautions seriously.”

Marks estimated last year’s inaugural field had 10 or 11 players ranked in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a number that has tripled this year.

Greenlief headlines an 87-player field; 33 of the 57 players in the Open Division are ranked in the WAGR.

“It’s certainly been an interesting year; it’s been a tough one to manage,” Marks said. “We’re excited to host the event. The field’s great.”

Greenlief, last season’s runner-up at The Donna and the 2015 U.S Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, hasn’t played in an event that counts for WAGR since the Women’s Orlando International Amateur Championship at the beginning of January.

She’ll face a strong field that includes Jackie Rogowicz, the 2019 Porter Cup champion who holds the highest WAGR ranking at 152. Emily Hawkins is the only other player in the field ranked in the top 200 at No. 195.

Defending champion Marissa Kirkwood is back, along with last year’s third-place finisher, Nicole Todd.

University of Virginia rising senior Beth Lillie, a three-time All-ACC performer, is making her tournament debut. She’s joined by a host of conference foes: Kayla Smith and Brynn Walker (North Carolina), Rebecca DiNunzio (Virginia Tech), Alexandra Swayne (the 2015 National Drive, Chip and Putt champion who attends Clemson), and Alice Hodge (a third-place finisher in the 2018 New York Women’s Amateur who attends Florida State).

Clemson signee Katherine Schuster, who won the North South Junior, the Dixie Amateur, the Silver Belle Amateur and the Twin States Championship in the past year, is back and hoping to improve on a last year’s seventh-place finish.

The field also includes All-Americans from the Division II and III ranks in Hallie Riley (University of Tampa) and Appomattox native Jillian Drinkard (Methodist).

Today’s final tee time at 1:10 p.m. features the Open Division’s youngest player, 13-year-old Chloe Kovelesky. The Florida native holds a WAGR rating of 1,206, has previously qualified for the USGA Four-Ball and placed ninth at the 2019 Harder Hall Invitational.

“The field is bigger, and it’s a lot stronger than last year,” Marks said.

Fifty-seven players are in the Open Division, which will feature the overall winner of the tournament, and there are 15 players in both the Donna Division and Senior Division.

Joan Gardner, the inaugural Senior Division champion, returns to defend her title. Her toughest competition will likely come in Maggie Brady.

Brady has qualified for the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur six times and also won the club championship at Congressional Country Club a whopping 10 times.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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