Golf: St. Charles North's Furtney qualifies for U.S. Women's Open
It has been a whirlwind month for Megan Furtney.
Furtney, a St. Charles North senior, began the month of May teaming with fellow Duke University commit Erica Shepherd to capture the 5th U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship held at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla.
The 18-year-old duo, which lost in the semifinals of the same event last year, combined to make 11 birdies while winning two 18-hole matches on May 1.
In the finals, Furtney collected back-to-back birdies on the second and third holes to give her side a lead that never dropped below 2-up after five holes during their eventual 2 and 1 victory over Jillian Bourdage and Casey Weidenfeld.
"It was a great experience," said Furtney, who earlier that day joined forces with Shepherd for six more birdies during a 4 and 2 semifinal triumph over Amari Avery and Alex Pano.
That was just the beginning.
Five days later, Furtney attempted to earn a spot in the 74th U.S. Women's Open Championship.
Playing in a sectional qualifying tournament at Elgin Country Club, the South Elgin resident carded a 36-hole score of 147.
"I checked the leaderboard after the first round just to know where I stood," Furtney said. "Going into the last nine (holes), I checked again and saw that I was in second place one shot off the lead.
"At that point, I was under-par for my round but then I doubled (bogey) 13. It was a par-4 and I hit into the trees off the tee."
Furtney regrouped with a birdie -- her seventh of the day -- at the par-5 14th and posted her 147 total, 3 shots off the pace of LPGA professional Wichanee Meechai of Orlando, Fla.
And then she waited.
"It had to be the longest hour and a half of my life," admitted Furtney. "All kinds of thoughts started going through my head -- whether I was going to be in a playoff for the final spot or not make it at all. I was mentally preparing myself."
When the remainder of the field completed play, Furtney's score edged out third-place alternates (148) Sarah Hoffman of Saline, Mich., and Kailie Vongsaga of Diamond Bar, Calif., by a single stroke.
"My parents were there and we were all crying afterward," said Furtney. "Playing in the U.S. Women's Open is something I've been dreaming about since I was a little girl. Being able to achieve one of my goals is amazing. I've watched the tournament on TV for years and now I'm going to be playing in it.
"It's an unreal feeling."
Last fall, Furtney helped lead the North Stars to their first girls golf state team title. Carding 8 birdies over two days, she placed third individually with a 36-hole total of 1-under-par 143 while St. Charles North finished at 610 -- 8 strokes better than runner-up Barrington.
Furtney added top-10 individual finishes (8th, 9th, 5th) during her first three seasons as the North Stars recorded back-to-back-to-back fourth-place team showings.
Over the course of her high school career, she posted an under-par average score.
In two weeks, she will be headed to Charleston Country Club (S.C.) to tee it up against 47 of the world's 50 top professional golfers -- and 13 previous U.S. Women's Open champions -- in one of the LPGA's premier events.
"It is absolutely amazing and so deserved," said North Stars girls golf coach Irish Whalen. "She is an excellent golfer and a very driven kid. She has worked very hard over the years."
Whalen knows Furtney possesses the skills -- mental and physical -- needed as she makes the jump to collegiate golf at Duke next fall.
"She holds together very well when she competes," said the coach. "She's very composed and a very mature golfer. She's not your typical teenager. She keeps herself well grounded and humble.
"Megan gives back to the game all the time. She is the first kid to help another player with a ruling or help explain the game to a less experienced golfer."
Furtney has also overcome her share of adversity, which included a partial amputation of her left pinkie finger that curtailed the majority of her 2017 summer tournament season.
"She missed three-quarters of her summer season and half of the high school season during her junior year," said Whalen. "Seeing her experience the setback and plow through it was just amazing."
Furtney, who consistently drives the ball 270-280 yards, feels her course management skills have improved throughout the past few years, something that could come in handy at the U.S. Women's Open.
"I'm sure the pins will be put in challenging positions," said Furtney, who plans on arriving in Charleston on May 26 in advance of the practice rounds slated for May 27-29.
"I'm looking forward to seeing people like Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr and picking their brains. It's going to be a playing and learning experience."
Furtney, who plans on having younger brother, Ben, as her caddie, will be accompanied by her parents and family friends in South Carolina.
St. Charles North's recently named Female Athlete of the Year also will have a huge rooting section back home.
"It will be fun to watch," said Whalen. "This is just the beginning. I'll be in her corner forever."
Ironically, St. Charles North's graduation ceremony is scheduled for June 2 -- the same day as the final round of the U.S. Women's Open.
"Hopefully, I'll miss it," Furtney said of the graduation.
It would be quite a memorable way to kick off her summer.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org.