LOWELL — Morgan Smith may have finished second behind her younger sister Molly in the last two Lowell Women’s City Tournaments, but she is most definitely first in line for a different golf milestone.
Morgan, a 15-year-old freshman at Westford Academy, became the first female player ever to qualify to play in the so-called Men’s City Tournament, beginning June 19 at Vesper Country Club.
She emerged from a 3-for-2 playoff for the final two slots on the Long Meadow Golf Club team on Sunday to earn her spot on the 12-player roster. Molly, now 14, was just one shot behind the three players in the playoff.
And while there may have been some grumbling at the watering holes of all four participating club when word got out, Long Meadow first-year head pro Shawn Scott left no doubt about his stance on the issue of women (or in this case, girls) playing in the area’s showcase event.
“I personally think it’s great,” said Scott on Monday. “Technically it is NOT the Men’s City Tournament. It’s the Lowell City Tournament and it’s defined as a tournament to identify the best player and best team in the area.
“These girls (Morgan and Molly) work hard and are passionate about the game. They earned it.”
Molly is one of three alternates on the LM team and so may get to play in the tournament after all.
Morgan, playing from the same tees as the men, shot steady if unspectacular rounds of 79 and 77 for a 156 total. After a lengthy rain delay she went back to the soggy ninth hole with Bernie Nangle and Keith Caples for the playoff. She methodically parred the hole and Nangle bogeyed it to knock out Staples.
Morgan’s father, eight-time Cities champion Phil Smith, was seeded onto the team at Long Meadow and so will tee it up in competition with his oldest daughter for the first time.
“I think it’s great,” said Smith. “To go out and break 80 both days is pretty good. And she made it on her first try. It took me three tries to make the Cities (at age 15).”
“We decided to play in it because it’s a tournament and we love to play tournaments,” said Morgan. “I thought if I played well I could possibly make the team. My goal was to shoot 78-78 and basically that’s what I did.
“The people I played with and talked to were all very supportive,” she added.
Molly, the young girl who shot 29 on the back nine at Vesper last summer to capture the Women’s Cities, made six birdies on Sunday, but four double-bogeys were devastating. Only medalist Doug Parigian, the 10-time City champion, made six birdies over the two-day period.
While Morgan knows Vesper CC well (the family has a membership), she’s never played from the back tees, where all players will drive from on June 19.
“Distance will be a problem,” she said. “I hit it about 215 off the tee. And I know they set the course up very difficult for that day.”
That, according to former Long Meadow pro Gene Manley, will be her biggest issue.
“Morgan relies on a pure precision game,” said the three-time Cities champ. “She’s like Annika Sorenstam, point A to point B. And she never beats herself.”
On Monday, Morgan shot a 2-over par 75 and came in second at the MIAA Girls Championship at Pleasant Valley CC in Sutton, falling just one shot short of winner Gabrielle Shieh of Concord-Carlisle, a junior superstar.
That qualified her to play on Team Massachusetts in a one-day Ryder Cup-style event, which unfortunately falls on the same day as the first round of the Cities. She said she will be at Vesper.
“It’s funny,” reflected Phil Smith. “In the wide world of golf, the Lowell City Tournament is nothing. But if you are from around here it’s a big deal. It’s the biggest tournament we’ve got.”
And now it will welcome its first female competitor.