The Harvard women's golf team recently became the only team in the Northeast region to earn votes in the national Top 25 poll by Golfweek Magazine. The Crimson posted an impressive 55-1 combined record last season en route to a second straight Ivy League title.
Milton, Mass. native Claire Sheldon has been a mainstay in Harvard's ascent to national prominence. A two-time All-Ivy League honoree, Sheldon also staked her claim as one of the top amateur golfers in the state by winning the WGAM Massachusetts Amateur Championships at The Country Club in 2007.
This past summer, Sheldon prepped for her final Harvard campaign by competing over the summer and qualifying for the USGA National Amateur Championships at the Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Mo.
Sheldon enjoys playing at historically important courses: The Country Club is the nation's oldest and Old Warson hosted the 1971 Ryder Cup, in which the US beat Europe 18.5 to 13.5 points.
"Qualifying for a USGA event is something I have been trying to do for a number of years," said Sheldon. "As you can imagine, I was thrilled. Qualifying for the ‘Am' can be surprisingly difficult, as there are a limited number of qualifying locations throughout the country (only 16) and a limited number of spots at each site. Additionally, the qualifying event is a single round, so it is easy for a good player to have an off-day and miss qualifying."
That's exactly what happened to Sheldon the past few seasons but she put it together this time around by shooting an even round score of 72 to qualify.
"I felt great about my game during the qualifier and about the way all the individual pieces of my game were continuing to development and come together in the weeks before the tournament in St. Louis. I had heard that USGA events were the best in the country, in terms of level of play, organization, and overall experience, and as soon as I arrived at Old Warson for the first practice round I found this to be completely true. The US Am was by far the best event I have ever played in- it truly was an exceptional experience and exceeded my impossibly high expectations."
Citing a veritable "who's who" of collegiate women's golf, Sheldon noted that the majority of the participants have professional aspirations and are attending college to hone their golf skills while attending classes. Not quite the case at Harvard where, despite developing hundreds of Olympians and professional athletes, classes must take priority. Still, Sheldon was no phased by the experience factor.
"Maintaining priorities and being competitive with people who are putting more time and effort into their game is a huge confidence builder," concedes Sheldon. "I think that's one of the most important things that I took away from the event: that just because golf isn't my main priority does not mean that I can't compete with people who do make it their priority."
Sheldon did just that for two tough days - competing with the country's best young golfers. In the end, she just missed the cut for match play after shooting a two-day total of 153 (78-75). "I set the goal of making it to match play, but given the difficulty of the course and the way that I was playing during those two days, I was very pleased with my results. I was particularly pleased with my scoring during the tournament and the way I managed the game I had during those two days; I managed my game perhaps better than I ever had."
Several weeks removed from the event, specific memories have been deleted - especially the unsuccessful shots. However, there are always one or two that will last for all athletes playing in such an event and it was no different for Sheldon.
"It's difficult to remember specific shots at this point, though I do remember making some pretty amazing up-and-downs for par, even one on my last hole the second day in front of a large gallery."
The Crimson is enjoying a week away from the competition this weekend but returns for its final fall competition Oct. 17 at Lehigh's Saucon Valley Country Club.