Runner-up finish boost for Coble

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It's been a bittersweet week for golfers linked to Augusta. The second largest city in Georgia has become Second City in golf.

Amateur standout Laura Coble became the third runner-up finisher with local ties in a span of four days, falling 3 and 2 to her former University of Georgia teammate Thursday in the match-play final of the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Championship in Ocala, Fla.

Coble, a former coach of the Augusta State women's golf team, joined former Jaguar golfers Vaughn Taylor and Oliver Wilson with significant seconds this week. Taylor lost a playoff on the PGA Tour while Wilson posted his ninth career runner-up finish on the European Tour.

While Coble would have preferred to snap the bridesmaid trend, the most accomplished local women's career amateur had little complaint after her highest individual finish on a national stage.

"It was a great week for me and I take nothing but positives from it," Coble said. "I'm real tickled that I got as far as I did. That's not bad, but I sure would like a 'W' in this tournament."

Twice before in 12 Women's Mid-Amateur appearances, Coble has made it as far as the quarterfinals. But this week she took advantage of a combination of good form and a course that suited her game to reach the next level.

Only once all week at Golden Hills Golf and Turf Club did Coble even trail in a match. She rallied from 3-down in the round of 16 but was in control the rest of the week, including a dominant 5 and 4 win in the semifinals over two-time winner Meghan Stasi.

That set up an 18-hole final of first-timers against her fellow Bulldogs teammate Martha Leach, who was a senior on the golf team at Georgia when Coble came in as a freshman.

"A lifetime ago it seems like," said Coble, 45. "We've known each other a long time and have played a lot of golf together."

Coble was 1 up after six holes Thursday but fell behind when Leach birdied No. 10. Bogeys at 12 and 14 put her three down, and Leach closed the match with a birdie on the par-5 16th. Leach joins her celebrated sister Hollis Stacy as a USGA champion and took possession of the Mildred Gardiner Prunaret Trophy for the year.

"We had a great match but Martha just outplayed me," Coble said.

Not that being a finalist didn't come with its rewards. Coble won't have to qualify for the next five Women's Mid-Amateurs, and she earned an exemption into next year's U.S. Women's Amateur to be played at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club. She also received a silver medal similar to the one Phil Mickelson owns by the handful.

Coble is no stranger to winning big events. She's been a dominant figure in Georgia amateur circles, winning the state amateur five times and the state open once. She won the Georgia State Golf Association's top female player award for 10 years in a row (1998-2007) and is a lock to win it for 2009. In 2005, she won the prestigious Women's Southern Amateur in Savannah, Ga., and was a member of the Georgia team that won two USGA Women's State Team Championships.

This season, with a Georgia Match Play title, a Greater Atlanta victory and another USGA women's team title, stacks up among her finest.

"They have their own character and each year it's something different, but this has been a great year," Coble said.

Reaching the Women's Mid-Am finals might serve as a stepping stone for bigger things ahead.

"Honestly, I think I'm overdue to be in this position," Coble said. "I think I can continue to play this well on a national level. Sometimes I put a little too much pressure on myself. I've been relaxed this week and had a good week."

Whatever comes next, however, will have to wait.

"I'm ready for some rest," she said of her season that began with preparations in March for the Match Play title she won in April. "I'm done."

For now. On the USGA stage, Coble has only just begun.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

LEACH CLAIMS MID-AM TITLE

OCALA, Fla. --- Martha Leach won the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur on Thursday to join sister Hollis Stacy as a U.S. Golf Association champion, beating former Georgia teammate and Augusta resident Laura Coble 3 and 2 at Golden Hills Golf and Turf Club.

The 47-year-old Leach, who now lives in Hebron, Ky., and Stacy are only the second sisters to win USGA titles.

"It's special," said Leach, making her 22nd start in the tournament for players 25 and older. "It just means a lot. I love her, but I have a lot of other siblings I love, too. Hollis just happens to be a great golfer."

-- Associated Press


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