Kristin Walla tops at Match play | AspenTimes.com

Kristin Walla tops at Match play

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

PARKER, Colo. ” Kristin Walla had a premonition.

Now, the Aspenite is the Colorado Women’s Golf Association Stroke Play champion.

Playing with a new set of irons and a heavy heart, the 21-year-old capped four days of difficult competition at Parker’s Pinery Country Club ” including a head-to-head bout with a Colorado Golf Hall of Famer ” with a convincing victory over Lynette Duran in Thursday’s 36-hole title match.

“When I teed it up on Monday, I just felt like I was kind of due,” The University of Texas senior said Thursday. “I felt like I could go all the way.”

Walla was optimistic, but grief-stricken as she stood on the first tee in Monday’s stroke play qualifier. Her great aunt died the previous week and, because of the qualifier, Walla missed the funeral.

“I felt like I had an angel on my shoulders all week,” Walla said.

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Undeterred, and without father and trusted caddy John manning the bag, Walla shot a 1-over-par 74 to nab the second seed in the match play bracket.

In her first head-to-head matchup Tuesday, Walla’s strong play continued. She was 7-up after seven holes and went on to win, 9-and-7. That afternoon, Walla took a 3-up advantage to the 12th hole before play was suspended because of rain.

She prevailed at the 17th during the continuation on Wednesday morning, setting up a semifinal match with Hall of Famer Janet Moore, who won the stroke play title five times in a seven-year span in the ’90s.

“She’s won more tournaments in Colorado than I can count,” Walla said.

But not this one. Walla built a lead on the front nine, then withstood a late charge down the final stretch. She took a 1-up advantage to the 18th hole, where both walked away with pars.

The victory set up a 36-hole final against familiar foe Duran.

“I played with her in the Colorado Open earlier this year in the first two rounds, and I think I probably beat her by six or seven strokes,” Walla said. “I knew it was going to take some good golf to beat her, so I went out with guns blazing.”

Two strong shots at the par-5 opening hole went for naught when Duran’s approach from 160 yards landed seven feet from the pin. Duran converted the birdie putt to take the early lead.

After missing a short birdie attempt at No. 2, Walla took advantage of three straight Duran bogeys to go 2-up.

Duran chipped in from 100 yards for an eagle at the sixth and made the turn just one shot back.

She would pull no closer.

Duran bogeyed the 10th, then Walla sank a chip from 30 yards to stretch the lead to 3-up. She answered Duran’s eagle at the 12th with three straight birdies ” including another chip in at 15.

“At that point, I felt like it was definitely my tournament to win,” Walla said. “I wanted to keep on trucking and not let anything slip.”

Mission accomplished. Walla’s tee shot at the uphill par-3 17th landed three feet from the pin. She was six up after 18 holes.

Duran pulled to within five after winning the 19th (first) hole, but hit her tee shot out of bounds on the 20th. After halving the next four holes, her driver betrayed her once more and Walla went to 7-up ” a margin she maintained heading into the final nine holes.

Duran, a 2005 Colorado State University graduate, made one final push. After Walla bogeyed the 29th, Duran recorded an eagle and a birdie in succession to pull to within four with five holes to play.

“I had some birdie putts, but I was playing it really safe,” Walla said. “I usually try to be aggressive and make sure the ball rolls past the hole, but I was coming up six inches short. I wanted to have no three-putts and make her have to make her putts.”

That plan worked to perfection.

Duran’s putt from the fringe at No. 14 came up four feet short. She missed the ensuing attempt, which would have extended the match.

After years of coming up short, Walla finally came out on top.

“It’s weird in match play. You end up in your own little part of the world, and you’re out there by yourself with no one but the caddies and rules officials,” she said. “It didn’t hit me that hard. … I was ecstatic, but it wasn’t that nervous feeling like being on No. 18 finishing up a tournament.”

Still, after a trying and dramatic week, Walla said the moment was something special.

“I felt like I was playing well [this summer], but I never had anything to cap it off with,” she added. “This is a great way to end the summer. … I knew I had it in me.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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