Nancy Smith walked off the 15th green at The Honors Course to a round of congratulatory hugs from friends who watched her advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur.
The North Port, Fla., resident got there Tuesday afternoon by defeating Maggie Leef of Brookfield, Wis., 4 and 3. And with a spot in the quarterfinals comes an exemption into this tournament next year.
That's a small but important fact that Smith forgot until reminded by her caddie: There will be no need to play against 40 golfers for three spots in the 2012 national tournament.
"To not have to go through a qualifier next year is such a relief," Smith said with an ice towel around her neck. "I didn't even think I'd qualify, much less get this far.
"This is a fairytale, but I'm not done yet."
Smith, who faces Anna Schultz of Texas this morning, will surely bump into fellow Floridian Mary Jane Hiestand as they warm up for their quarterfinal matches. If not, they will see each other again next year at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club.
Hiestand needed 19 holes in her second match Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals and receive her first next-year pass in the 27 USGA events in which she has participated.
"This is my first exemption ever," said Hiestand, who won with a par on the extra hole against Kathy Kurata of Pasadena, Calif. "I've surpassed my best finish in any USGA event.
"I'm glad it's over because I sure didn't want to go to a 20th hole. I had to hunker down and make a two-footer to move on to the next round."
Hiestand will face medalist Lisa Schlesinger of Laytonsville, Md., who won 5 and 3 over Cheryl Grigg of Sea Island, Ga. Schlesinger shot 5 under par during the 36-hole weekend qualifier and has yet to play beyond the 15th hole in three matches since.
"It's competition. I try to go out play the best I can, and if I have to play my mom, I'm going to beat her butt then love her walking off 18," said Schlesinger, a former professional basketball player and fastpitch softball player who hits a golf ball farther than almost everybody in the field.
"The tougher it gets, the better I am," she said. "I am not your average golfer -- just an athlete with good hand-eye coordination."
The Schlesinger-Hiestand winner will face Kim Eaton of Greeley, Colo., or Terri Frohnmayer of Salem, Ore., this afternoon in the semifinals.
Defending champion Mina Hardin of Fort Worth, Texas, advanced to a quarterfinal match by defeating Marietta's Brenda Pictor 5 and 4. Hardin now faces another Georgian in Susan Rheney of Greensboro, who defeated Pat Brogden of Garner, N.C., 5 and 3.
"One shot at a time," said Hardin, who was 6 up through 12 holes on Pictor, who felt a little ill after lunch. "Don't put the carriage in front of the horses."
And the eight golfers who earned a spot in the 2012 championship can't put that accomplishment ahead of today's matches.