he day began like so many others in the fall for Erica Shepherd. Grab some breakfast and prepare for another day of classes at Center Grove High in Greenwood, Ind., 25 minutes south of Indianapolis. But when the 17-year-old looked at her phone that October morning, there was a text from the USGA’s Tracy Parsons, the director of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, which Shepherd had claimed just over two months earlier.
“Oh my god, what if I got into the U.S. [Women’s] Open?” Shepherd wondered. “When I won, I really didn’t know what I was exempt for, so I was joking around, like, ‘Oh, do I get into the Open now?’ And they were like, no.”
Shepherd called Parsons right away, and was told she had a tee time for the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek. Later in the day, the USGA announced that the winners of the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur would be exempt for the Women’s Open, starting with this week’s championship. Shepherd and Kelsey Chugg, who won the weather-delayed 2017 Women’s Mid-Amateur in Houston in November, would be the first to qualify.
Shepherd, who has never played Shoal Creek, should be much more prepared for her second Women’s Open start after missing the cut two years ago at CordeValle, where she nearly withdrew due to a rib injury. Last August, she made the cut in the LPGA Tour’s Indy Women in Tech Championship and helped the USA Junior Solheim Cup team to victory in Iowa.
“Usually people think I’m intimidating,” said Shepherd, who earned her spot in the 2016 Women’s Open in a sectional qualifier at River Grove, Ill. “But at CordeValle, [my fellow competitors] were the ones intimidating me. With the Junior Solheim Cup and the LPGA event in Indianapolis, I’ve been around a lot of players now, so I think it won’t freak me out as much.”