Michigan golfing duo met in a playoff; now, they're teaming up in USGA opener

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The United States Golf Association's season gets under way this week with the U.S. Women's Amateur Four Ball Championship, which mostly features some of the nation's best high-school and college golfers.

Then there's Kimberly Dinh, 29, of Midland, and Ashley Mantha, 35, of Ann Arbor.

They actually work for a living — and play golf only when they can find the time.

From left, Kimberly Dinh, 29, of Midland, and Ashley Mantha, 35, of Ann Arbor, after winning their qualifier to get into this week's U.S. Women's Amateur Four Ball Championship.

"It's primary in our hearts," said Mantha, "and secondary on the calendar."

For one week, this week, at least, golf takes priority for the duo, which is competing in the team event for a second straight year, after missing the cut into the match-play portion by four strokes a year ago in 2021. The 2022 tournament runs Wednesday through Saturday, with a cut Thursday after two rounds of stroke play.

The tournament is at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, site of the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open. This marks the first USGA tournament ever contested outside of the United States mainland.

If anything, at last fall's qualifier in Indianapolis, Dinh, a senior research specialist at Dow Chemical, and Mantha, the new athletic director at Saline High School, were just hoping to play well enough to score a nice vacation. Their expectations probably ticked up a notch after they won the qualifier; for the 2021 tournament, the duo got in as alternates, after a Michigan State twosome had to pass because of the Big Ten season.

"We were definitely rusty coming off the winter," Dinh said of last year's showing in the tournament.

Said Mantha: "I would say we're mentally more prepared" this year, even though, with snow in Michigan on Wednesday, "it's hard to prep as opposed to someone from the South."

The seventh annual U.S. Women's Amateur Four Ball Championship features a field of 128 golfers, or 64 teams, each golfer playing their own ball and the team taking the best score each hole.

Dinh and Mantha are the third-oldest team in this year's field, but don't lack credentials.

Dinh was the Golf Association of Michigan's player of the year in 2021, reaching the Round of 16 in the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur and finishing runner-up in her title defense of the Michigan Mid-Amateur.

Mantha coached the Ann Arbor Skyline boys golf team to a state championship in 2021 and earned coach-of-the-year honors, a first for a woman in boys golf. She just became Saline's first female athletic director, cutting even further into her time for golf — though she did just put a putting green in her office.

Interestingly, the duo didn't know each other until the 2020 Michigan Mid-Amateur, where they were paired together in the final round at Country Club of Lansing. They actually met in a playoff, with Dinh winning.

The round started off with some small talk (and Dinh making birdie) and picked up from there, Dinh and Mantha just thrilled to be back playing golf — which was among the many industries shut down in Michigan in the early days of the COVID pandemic. By the end of the day, they had exchanged numbers — and within weeks, a partnership was formed.

"About a month later, I hit her up, 'Hey, you want to take on the youngins?'" Mantha said with a laugh, on a layover in Atlanta on Monday, en route to Puerto Rico.

Said Dinh: "I'm like, 'Cool.' I hadn't even considered the Four Ball until Ashley texted."

This week, they'll be competing against some of the best college golfers in the country — of course, they remember what that those days were like. Dinh played at Wisconsin — interestingly, she then didn't play for five years after leaving Wisconsin, focusing on her studies at MIT, before picking the game back up when returning to Midland — while Mantha played at James Madison.

They're career professionals now, and thus more weekend warriors when it comes to golf.

Dinh found time to play in just four major tournaments in 2021; Mantha, even fewer.

So, they don't have the practice hours. But, they figure, they might just have something more valuable.

"There's something about experience being an advantage," Dinh said. "It will be a lot of fun, absolutely, and we'll show up and we will acquit ourselves well."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984