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Challenge awaits Gainesville grad
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The United States Golf Association prides itself on challenging golfers.

That was evident during the weekend’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where professional golfers struggled to remain under par.

But the USGA doesn’t limit its challenges to the professionals, and starting today when Gainesville High grad Lauren Darnell takes to the tee at the Women’s Amateur Public Links golf tournament, she knows she’ll be in for a battle.

"It’s a good course," Darnell said of the Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, Wisc.,which is playing host to its first USGA championship. "But it’s tough. The greens have a lot of undulation, and there are a lot of elevated shots to those greens.

"The rough is thick and paralyzing."

That rough will be especially difficult this week, as rain has saturated the golf course.

"I think they’ve had almost too much rain," said Darnell, whose practice round on Saturday was cut short by rain. "The rain may soften the greens a little, but it’s definitely going to make the fairways slower."

While knowing that she’ll be in for a challenge in what she called, "the biggest tournament of my life," Darnell, who qualified for this tournament by shooting a 74 on May 15 at The Oaks in Covington, is not unfamiliar with playing an event of this caliber.

In 2007 she played in this same event when it was held at Kerney Hills in Lexington, Ky. And despite missing the cut last year, Darnell hopes that the experience will help her this year.

"It’s a good reference for this year’s tournament," Darnell said.

After two rounds of stroke play qualifying today and Tuesday, the Women’s Amateur Public Links tournament switches to a match play style tournament.

Wednesday the field will be cut to 64 after the morning matches, and to 32 after the afternoon matches.

The tournament will conclude Friday with the two finalists going head-to-head for 36 holes.

"I’m hitting the ball alright," Darnell said. "But I just want to make the cut. That’s all I’m hoping for."

After making the cut, Darnell hopes to reach that Friday final, where she will have a chance to play for a possible exemption to the Women’s Amateur event Aug. 4-10 in Eugene, Ore.

Even if she doesn’t win, the four-time Times Golfer of the Year knows that playing in a tournament like this will only help her when she heads back to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., this fall.

"It’s good to be tournament tough coming into college golf," she said.

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