Defending champion Alexa Rancourt, 18, of South Portland will be a solid favorite in the Women's Maine State Golf Association championship which begins today at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester.
Rancourt snuck up on the field last year at Bangor Muni, winning by six strokes. Her previous appearance in the Amateur, two years prior to that, resulted in a poor performance. She's improved dramatically since then, thanks to hard work at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where she attended high school.
"My biggest improvement is definitely my ball striking," Rancourt said. "In Florida I was able to create a solid swing."
Rancourt won a national junior tournament in Florida at the end of March -- "that was a huge stepping stone," she said -- and recently qualified for next month's U.S. Women's Amateur in St. Louis. This fall she'll attend Furman University in Greenville, S.C., on a golf scholarship.
Rancourt has played Augusta just once in a junior event and remembers just a few holes. It should be a good test for the field of 84.
"It's 5,700 (yards) from ladies tees, but it's a long 5,700," Augusta Country Club pro Pete Hatfield said. "There's a lot of uphill shots and not a lot of roll."
The greens on the par 71 Donald Ross course are quick and there are several bunkers surrounding holes and scattered along fairways. The three-day tournament will conclude Wednesday and will not include a cut.
"It can be somewhat of a placement course," Augusta member and tournament organizer Pam Johnson said. "It's in great shape."
This will be at least the 10th time Augusta has hosted the Women's Amateur -- some records for the 1930s and '40s are not available -- and the first since 2000.
Rancourt will tee off with Yarmouth's Kate Merrill, who won the schoolgirl title two years ago and finished second last year. Also in the threesome will be Ann Probert, a summer resident who holds a 3.7 handicap index and plays at the Waterville Country Club.
"She's from New Jersey and she's a senior," Waterville pro Don Roberts said of Probert "She's a really good player, she can play to (her handicap) I think."
Also in the field are former schoolgirl champion Whitney Hand of Bucksport and Martindale's Kristin Kannegiesser who won the tournament two years ago. Notable in their absence are sisters Pennie Cummings and Martha White.
White has 13 amateur titles to her credit while Cummings has six, the last in 2006.
"I need and want to give time to my family," said Cummings, who finished second last year. "I feel badly because I think Augusta is such a test of golf and great place to have a Maine Amateur."
Cummings added White is dealing with personal issues, as well, but both plan to play in the future.
Augusta has nine members playing in the tournament while Waterville has six and Natanis five. Today's round will be followed by a banquet while the award ceremony Wednesday will include top 10 gross and net prizes as well overall, junior and senior winners.