Nine years ago, shortly after golfer Becky Brittian earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors during her senior season at Wichita State, the U.S. Women's Amateur was played at Andover's Flint Hills National.
A national championship traditionally loaded with talented teenagers and college standouts — especially one played in her own backyard — had to be on Brittian's radar, right?
"I didn't even think about," she said. "It didn't even cross my mind to go for it."
Brittian was ready for something other than competitive golf, and soon, life took over. Brittian married and became Becky Thomas. And after working at a local bank for a few years, Thomas and her husband, Steve, had their first child.
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Now 31 and a stay-at-home mom to daughter Allison, Thomas decided a few months ago to up the ante after years of recreational golf. She entered her first U.S. Golf Association championship and qualified for it, shooting a 10-over-par 82 on Sept. 1 at Wichita Country Club.
That earned Thomas a spot in the 24th U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur, which begins at 8 a.m. today at WCC. The six-day championship, one of 13 annually conducted by the USGA, features 132 golfers at least 25 years old from 36 states and five foreign countries. It will conclude Thursday with an 18-hole match-play final.
The magnitude of earning a spot in the field through sectional qualifying didn't immediately register for Thomas, who will tee off No. 1 at 8:40 this morning with Corey Weworski of Carlsbad, Calif., and Daria Cummings of Monroe, Conn. At the qualifier, Thomas tied for fourth with Overland Park's Lacy Shelton and was 11 shots behind winner Carolyn Creekmore of Dallas, the 2004 USGA Senior Women's Amateur champion.
"There were only 14 golfers in the qualifier and there wasn't a lot of buzz around here," Thomas said outside the WCC clubhouse. "It probably wasn't until the other day when I walked into the pro shop and saw all of the shirts and things with the (championship) logo on it that I thought, 'Hmm, this is kind of big.' "
While the Women's Mid-Am isn't stacked with household names, it includes plenty of golfers with lofty credentials. There are 12 winners of USGA individual championships, including defending Women's Mid-Am champion Martha Leach of Hebron, Ky. Weworski, 48, is one of nine former winners of the event. She claimed the 2004 title in Knoxville, Tenn.
Seven golfers in the field have represented the United States in the Curtis Cup, a biennial amateur competition with Great Britain and Ireland.
"I've been telling people I just don't want to embarrass myself," Thomas said. "As long as I shoot my game, it'll be OK."
Thomas learned the game from her father, Scott Brittian, a military man who got her started at McConnell Air Force Base's now-closed Twin Lakes Golf Course. She attended Downtown Magnet High School, graduating in 1997, but played golf for Heights.
At WSU, Thomas and her Shocker teammates played Wichita Country Club on Mondays as part of their regular practice rotation.
"I think that'll help," Thomas said of her course knowledge. "The big thing is going to come down to putting. There's not many surprises out there, but the greens are pretty tricky."
Thomas didn't exactly put her golf clubs in storage after graduation. She taught a golf class at Butler Community College for a couple years and was involved with the former Executive Women's Golf Association chapter. But when it came to posting scores at tournaments, Thomas didn't do much outside of couples scrambles with her husband.
This year, Thomas won the women's club championship at Andover's Terradyne Country Club and entered the Kansas Women's Amateur, finishing near the bottom of the first flight, 33 shots behind overall winner Katy Nugent.
As the competitive bar raises today, Thomas will tee it up with a smile. She knows some of her preparation has been done with her 4-year-old daughter at her side, dismantling and reassembling pyramids of driving range balls while mom practices.
"With this age group, you get a lot of us that like to play and practice, but golf can't always be our No. 1 priority because of where we're at in our careers or life," Thomas said. "It's nice to be with people who are around the same age or same point in life. It is going to be neat."