SPRING LAKE – Dearborn native Elayna Bowser was a runaway champion at the 103rd Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship on Friday, winning her semifinal and final matches with plenty of breathing room.
The Loyola of Chicago senior played like anything but an amateur against a two-time winner of this event, Michigan State women’s golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, winning 4 and 3 in the afternoon final.
“To win this is the ultimate goal in women’s Michigan amateur golf,” Bowser said. “It means a lot to me.”
Bowser tore through the Spring Lake CC course throughout the week, taking a second seed into the match play portion of the event. In last year’s Women’s Amateur in Redford, Bowser made the final before losing in a playoff. Fast-forward a year, and Bowser was determined to make this tournament count, possibly her last as an amateur.
“Last year was a lot of my motivation heading into this week,” Bowser said. “If I keep playing like this, I know I can compete with the best players in the world.”
After comfortable wins in the rounds of 32 and 16, Bowser cruised into the semifinals with a 5 and 4 win over Clarkston’s Danielle Staskowski. On Friday morning, Bowser jumped out to a three-hole lead at the turn over Abbey Pierce, a Grand Valley State junior, before winning 4 and 3 to progress to the final.
Meanwhile, Slobodnik-Stoll had finished as the 12th seed heading into match play, where she defeated Spring Lake native Kayla Krueger in the round of 16 on Thursday. From there, the 1996 and 1998 champion of the Women’s Amateur buckled down, winning her quarterfinal match on the final hole against Clarklake’s Alyssa Fish.
After a string of upsets elsewhere in the bracket, Slobodnik-Stoll faced 17th-seeded Heather Fortushniak in the semifinals, taking control early on the back nine en route to a 6 and 4 victory.
Bowser struck first in the final, chipping close and putting pressure on Slobodnik-Stoll, who missed her par putt. The match had the makings of a back-and-forth affair – Bowser found the sand with her approach on the par-4 second hole, giving Slobodnik-Stoll a chance to tie the match early with an eight-foot putt – but it was Bowser who had the better end of the early stages.
“I wish I would have played like I did in the morning,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “I got a little tight and tried to make things happen and push a little bit.”
Slobodnik-Stoll’s drive on the fifth hole found a tree to the left of the fairway, and her recovery couldn’t avoid a nearby bunker. Bowser took advantage, holding a 2-up lead heading into No. 8. There, it was Bowser’s turn to find the sand and play from behind. Her long putt to salvage the hole missed left, cutting her lead in half heading to the ninth.
There, the consistency that won Bowser the tournament showed itself. On the par-5 ninth, Bowser’s third shot bounced within eight feet. Her birdie putt crept in, giving the potential pro her two-shot lead back.
The 10th and 11th were where, for all intents and purposes, the match was won. On No. 10, Bowser hit her third shot on the par-5 behind the green and her chip crept 12 feet from the hole. Needing the par putt to halve the hole, Bowser knocked the right-to-left putt in after Slobodnik-Stoll couldn’t make her birdie putt.
“I didn’t have my best game of the week [on Friday],” Bowser said. “That said, I made some key putts when I needed to and grinded it out.”
On the par-3 11th, Slobodnik had a golden opportunity to make her move. Bowser had to chip from off the green, but the Haslett native couldn’t get her 10-foot putt to go in.
“I wish I could have my putt back on 11,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. The MSU golf coach has won 18 combined GAM tournaments, a mark that is far and away the best in the organization’s history of competitive golf. “If I would have made a birdie there, maybe something swings a little bit and you get some momentum. You had to be careful on the greens because of the speed.”
Bowser closed the door on the 12th, playing her second shot on the par-4 to within four feet and tapping in for birdie to win the hole. Her tee shot on the par-3 13th was off the back of the green but Bowser was able to make her tricky par putt. Slobodnik-Stoll had to chip from off the green, and her par putt slid by the hole, sending Bowser into a 4-hole lead.
Both players parred the 14th hole, and Slobodnik-Stoll’s putt for birdie on No. 15 missed narrowly, giving Bowser the 4 and 3 victory.
"It's definitely going to give me some confidence moving forward," Bowser said. "I wanted to finish strong."
Bowser is set to decide between LPGA Qualifying School and her senior year at Loyola of Chicago. She was also able to one-up her brother Evan, a member of the Canadian Tour.
"He's played in his share of Michigan Amateurs but never got the win," Bowser said. "So I've got the edge on him."
As a Michigan State coach and longtime Michigan native, Slobodnik-Stoll was also excited for Bowser's future.
"I wish her the best of luck in Q-School," Slobodnik-Stoll said. "It'll be nice to follow another Michigander and young golfer through a professional career."