Women's Amateur Championship: Hannah Darling's challenge comes to end

Hannah Darling’s bid to land the Women’s Amateur Championship has come to an end.

Jessica Baker of Gosforth Park Ladies celebrates on the 17th green after winning her semi-final match against Hannah Darling of Broomieknowe. (Photo by Harriet Lander/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
Jessica Baker of Gosforth Park Ladies celebrates on the 17th green after winning her semi-final match against Hannah Darling of Broomieknowe. (Photo by Harriet Lander/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

The Scot reached the semi-finals at Hunstanton, but fell to defeat when up against Jess Baker on Friday afternoon. She had earlier defeated Alessandra Fanali of Italy in the quarter-finals.

England’s Baker will take on Louise Rydqvist from Sweden will contest the final of the 119th renewal of the event.

Newcastle native Baker ousted Emilie Alba Paltrinieri from Italy and Curtis Cup player Darling to reach the 36-hole final over the Norfolk links while Rydqvist, who has just finished her freshman year at the University of South Carolina, rallied from two down with three to play to win all three holes and edge out Spain’s Carla Bernat – the fifth knock-out match in-a-row she has won at the 18th or after extra holes this week.

There is much at stake on Saturday, with the winner earning places in the AIG Women’s Open, US Women’s Open, The Amundi Evian Championship and, by tradition, an invitation to the Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship.

Baker, ranked 518th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking and a student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, produced one of her best displays to oust reigning R&A Girls’ Amateur Champion Darling, who sits 16th on WAGR.

Darling, 18, drove through the green on the opening par-4 but lost the hole to Baker’s birdie. Darling fought back but bogeyed the 5th and was then bunkered at the 6th to go behind before Baker’s birdie at the par-5 8th gave her a two-hole lead.

The 19-year-old from Newcastle then made a brilliant eagle at the par-5 11th to increase her lead to three before Darling, who was seeking back-to-back Scottish successes after Louise Duncan’s win last year, hit back at the 12th and 15th with birdies. However, a superb birdie from Baker at the short 16th and an up-and-down for par at the next, helped by a decisive 20-foot putt, saw her triumph 2&1.

In warm and windy conditions, Bernat, 18, and Rydqvist, 20, shared eight birdies between them in a high-quality front nine, with Bernat holding the edge by a hole.

The pair then shared the next four holes, after both bogeying the 11th and making birdies at the 12th, before Bernat went two ahead with a birdie at the short 14th. It looked a good advantage but she bogeyed the 16th and 17th to allow Rydqvist to draw level. The Spaniard’s sliced drive at the 18th led to another bogey and the Swede – 143rd on WAGR and making her Championship debut – made par for a one-hole victory.

In the morning’s quarter-finals, there was a brave bid from Kelsey Bennett who took Rydqvist into overtime. The Swede made a superb birdie at the 16th to go two-up but her Aussie opponent made a 25-foot birdie putt at the 17th and then won the 18th with a par to keep the match alive. The pair both birdied the 19th after Rydqvist almost drove the green, before she prevailed at the 20th.

Baker turned on the style to seal her place in the last four, going one better than her run to the quarter-finals last year at Kilmarnock (Barassie). Two birdies early on helped her to a commanding four-hole lead at the turn against Paltrinieri, who was runner-up in stroke play qualifying. Baker matched her birdies at the 11th and 12th and stayed strong for a 3&2 win.

Darling posted four birdies and just one dropped shot as she ended Italian title hopes, with the Scot claiming a 2&1 victory over Fanali.