As a student at Notre Dame, Ashley Armstrong of Flossmoor will face one of the most difficult tests for any college student: Calculus.
It’s a rite of passage for most students at the school.
She is a day away from a more difficult test: Blackwolf Run.
Armstrong, after several days of waiting with alternate status, is in the U.S. Women’s Open, the premier women’s golf championship in the world.
No course on the women’s pro tour is set up harder. No course an amateur will face is set up remotely close to it.
Armstrong starred at Homewood-Flossmoor and won the Big East individual title this spring as a Notre Dame freshman. She finished third in sectional qualifying at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago. Only the top two players were assured berths.
Armstrong was high on the alternate list, but her admission into the field of 156 was only assured Sunday night, after the LPGA tournament in Arkansas concluded with little movement in the world rankings.
“I was on the putting green (at Blackwolf Run), and an official came up to me and told me I was in,” Armstrong said from Kohler, Wis. “I didn’t want to get too excited about (getting in), because I didn’t want to be too dejected if I didn’t make it.”
She made it, and gets all the perks of a big-time pro, including a Lexus courtesy car for the week.
“(Monday) I signed autographs for little kids,” Armstrong said. “It’s all so cool.”
Now comes the hard part: playing Blackwolf Run. The course is a Pete Dye design that could measure as long a 6,954 yards, if the United States Golf Association sets up every hole from the back tee. In comparison, the course in Florida where Armstrong won the Big East title in a three- hole playoff was only 6,117 yards.
Two par 5s at Blackwolf Run are about 600 yards. Four par 4s are over 400. The shortest par 3 is 172. And Armstrong, who possesses a potent short game and a smooth putting stroke, is not a overly long hitter.
"Blackwolf Run is insanely hard but awesome,” Armstrong said. "There are some par 4s I’ll play as par 5s and try to make birdies. My strategy is to not make big mistakes. There are gonna be bogeys out there. It’s pretty crazy long. I’ll take it one shot at a time and see what happens."
The course’s par is 72, but the course rating, a measure of difficulty for scratch players, is 80.2, and the slope is 151. Hazards are so numerous, it’s like golf with land mines.
One of Armstrong's strengths is her ability to focus. She'll need every bit of that tenacity come Thursday at 2:31 p.m., when she steps to the tee and hears her name announced.
"That's when it’s finally going to kick in,” said Armstrong, the only Illinois resident in the field.
Most of the time when she played for Homewood-Flossmoor, only her parents, either Dean or Carolyn, would be watching. She’ll have plenty of company this week. Her caddie, Cog Hill teaching pro Garrett Chaussard, has already reminded her of that.
“He said, ‘Everybody will be looking at you,'" Armstrong said, professing no worries. “The biggest thing college golf has done for me is help my confidence.”
Armstrong didn’t say it, but making the cut would be an achievement.
The low 60 and those tied advance to the final two rounds. When the Women’s Open was played at Blackwolf Run in 1998, the cut was 8-over- par 150 (which would be 6-over in this year’s par-72 configuration), but the course played about 500 yards shorter than this year. And the winning score of 290, which gained eventual champion Se Ri Pak and runner-up Jenny Chuasiriporn entry to a playoff, matched the highest winning score in the Women’s Open since 1977.
“I’ll be hitting hybrids and woods into the greens,” Armstrong said. "And there are some mean pins out there."