Brynn Walker and her North Carolina teammates were enjoying a practice round before the start of Notre Dame’s Clover Cup golf tournament last March in Mesa, Ariz., when the world started to go crazy.
First, the event got caught up in the tornado of pro and college sports cancellations because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Then as the Tar Heels were headed back to their hotel, Walker saw a tweet of the NCAA’s decision that no championships would be held the rest of the academic year, an apparent sudden end to her athletic career.
“It was like a dagger to the heart,” Walker, a Radnor High School graduate from St. Davids, said Monday. “We’re thinking we’ll get home and hopefully get to play again. But it all happened so fast. It was probably all within 30 minutes – we were on the course in the practice round, then we were in the car on the way to the hotel, and then we found out.
“I thought that my season and my time playing for Carolina were pretty much over at the time.”
Still, while the only certainty during the pandemic is the uncertainty of what each day will present, Walker did find a couple of bits of good news.
The NCAA would grant spring sports athletes who could not compete an extra year of eligibility, which she accepted. She later received word from the U.S. Golf Association, which canceled a majority of its championships and qualifying competitions, of an all-exempt field for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Walker, 22, thus earned a berth in the championship starting Aug. 3 at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., because she reached the match-play round of 32 contestants at last year’s event. It will be her fourth Women’s Amateur and ninth USGA championship overall.
“I felt maybe my play last year would get me in,” she said. “So it feels pretty nice. It’s weird, I’ve never not gone through the qualifier for the U.S. Am, but it’s a lot more stress-free.”
Walker has enjoyed a fine collegiate and amateur career. She is a four-time Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar. She won the 2019 Philadelphia Women’s Amateur. She reached the semifinals and the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in back-to-back years, both times with partner Madelein Herr of New Hope.
She twice has qualified for the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the Jersey Shore, missing the cut in 2016 and 2019 but learning how the pros approached practice and competition. She competed last fall in the first two stages of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
In an ideal world, Walker would be back at the LPGA Q-School this fall with her sights on making the tour. But with only about half of the 33 originally scheduled events being contested in 2020, tour officials decided not to stage a qualifying tournament and ruled that a tour player’s current status would be carried over to 2021.
“At first it was definitely very disappointing for me,” she said. “I was like, wow, everything that I had been planning for at the end of this year, everything I had dreamed, is not going to be happening. But at the same time, it’s been a pretty good time. I’ve been working on my swing and my game. There’s nothing I can do to change the circumstances, so I might as well just adapt and make the most of it.”
She also has enjoyed writing a blog that she called “a full, transparent documentation of my journey through golf … to try to inspire other people.”
Even with the pandemic, Walker said she rarely has gone for more than a week without practicing or playing. She played courses in North Carolina before returning home. She has worked on her game on her home course at St. Davids Golf Club and with her coach, John Dunigan, at Applebrook Golf Club.
Her only tournament competition came last month when she finished third in Lynchburg, Va., at an event organized by former LPGA player Donna Andrews. Now she’s arranging matches with friends to sharpen her game in preparation for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The championship won’t be the same – a smaller field, only two guests per player, fewer rules officials, no evening receptions. Walker said she and her parents, who will accompany her to Maryland, must get tested for COVID-19 five to 10 days before the event, and again upon arrival.