Polished Product

Huarte Uses Experience To Edge Pressel, 1 Up

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Erie, Pa. – A year ago, Sarah Huarte might not have been able to pull off the shot. At the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur, she was just another name in the draw, another player trying to prove she belonged with the best.

 

Sarah Huarte reacts to making a birdie at 16 to square her quarterfinal match with Morgan Pressel. Huarte posted a 1-up win. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Huarte reached the third round at Philadelphia Country Club, but ran into the more-polished Virada Nirapathpongporn, who disposed the Shingle Springs, Calif., resident 5 and 4 en route to the championship.

 

Then came the South Atlantic Women's Amateur this past January at Oceanside Country Club in Ormond Beach, Fla., when she knocked a 7-iron to three feet at the 72nd hole to beat Brittany Lincicome, Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cupper Emma Duggleby and Paula Creamer by a stroke. It was Huarte's first major amateur victory and was the impetus to bigger and better things.

 

Not long after, the USGA named Huarte to the 2004 Curtis Cup and she verified that selection by winning the individual title at the NCAA Division I Women's Championship, shooting a 72-hole record 278 (10 under) in her final competition in a University of California-Berkeley uniform.

 

Nothing like a few big victories to boost the confidence.

 

So as the 22-year-old Huarte eyed what appeared to be an impossible up and down at the 17th hole in her quarterfinal match Friday afternoon against 16-year-old Morgan Pressel at the 104th U.S. Women's Amateur at The Kahkwa Club all that experience came rushing back like a gigantic waterfall.

 

“My heart was pumping over that chip,” said Huarte, who was all square with her teen-age opponent. She had struggled with her club selection on the approach shot and chose a 6-iron over the 7 and got too aggressive, hitting it left and over the green.

 

Moments earlier, Pressel, facing an uphill pitch and run from the front fringe, left her ball 10 feet short of the flagstick. Huarte sized up her shot, swung the sand wedge back and through perfectly and lofted the ball toward the hole. It stopped three feet from the flag, drawing a healthy applause from the 100 or so fans surrounding the green. A dazzling shot under the most intense pressure.

 

Pressel, first to putt, missed her par opportunity and Huarte calmly dropped the putt for a 1-up advantage, her first lead of the match.

 

“Gosh, that was pretty clutch,” said Huarte. “That was just a big hole there. I don't know, it's up there [among my best ever]. It's definitely top 10.”

 

Added Pressel: “I just didn't read [my putt] right. I didn't play enough break.”

 

Morgan Pressel ran into a buzzsaw in Sarah Huarte on Friday, but reaching the quarterfinals in her first Women's Amateur is no small feat for the 16-year-old Floridian. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

At 18, Pressel, knowing she needed a birdie to extend the match, watched her approach shot sail just right of her target and into the back bunker. Huarte followed with a 9-iron to 18 feet below the hole. Pressel blasted to within three feet, but all she could do was watch her opponent lag to within inches of the hole for a 1-up victory and a spot in Saturday's semifinals.

 

A dejected Pressel pulled her cap down, made a bee line for the locker room, stopping only to sign two autographs for a young fan. In the parking lot with her grandparents, she fought back tears as she summed up a brilliant week of golf that simply came up short against a tough foe. In her first Women's Amateur, she advanced to the round of eight, earning an exemption into the 2005 event in Atlanta.

 

“I just want to come back and win this that much more,” said Pressel, who won the prestigious North and South Women's title this summer and qualified for the U.S. Women's Open as a 12-year-old three years ago. “Today I hit the ball all right. I just couldn't make [enough] putts. I had plenty of opportunities, they just weren't going in.

 

“She made putts on every hole. I mean you have to expect your opponent to make them, especially when you are in the quarters. She's not going to give them to me.”

 

Added Huarte of her younger foe: “It's great to play against these good players. I'm intimidated by them. I heard so much about Morgan Pressel coming into this so I was intimidated by her. At the same, I was trying to intimidate her … but I don't know if that worked.”

 

No more so at the par-5 eighth. With Pressel holding a 1-up lead and just short of the green in two, Huarte stuck a 4-iron approach from 189 yards to five feet and converted the eagle putt to square the match. It remained all square until 15 when Pressel holed a 35-foot uphill birdie putt after Huarte missed the green to the left with her tee shot.

 

One hole later, Huarte returned the favor, draining a downhill 18-footer for birdie and Pressel left her 17-footer inches shy of the hole.

 

“I stood over that putt and I thought back to the SALLY when I had that three foot birdie putt on the last hole,” said Huarte. “When I was at the [Ladies] British Amateur, I made a birdie putt [in the first round] to go extra holes. So it's the coming of me being more confident over clutch shots that I have to hit.

 

“You can tell my game's going somewhere when you can pull off those really clutch shots.”

 

That competitive spirit might have been inherent in Huarte since birth. Her uncle, John, won the 1964 Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. Her father played football at St. Mary 's College and her mother has competed and finished the Boston Marathon. Her younger sister, Laura, is a pole vaulter for Notre Dame's track team.

 

But academics are important as well. Even though her eligibility expired with the NCAAs in May, Huarte is taking summer-school classes at Cal and hopes to earn her American Studies degree in December. In fact, she brought some of her home work with her to the Women's Amateur.

 

“[Thursday] was my last day,” said Huarte. “I'm taking ethnic studies; that's the final I finished [Friday] morning [before her quarterfinal match]. I e-mailed it in. And I have a geography class that I have to take a final when I get back.”

 

But she'd also like to pass two more tests before the week ends. Those would be on the golf course. One comes Saturday against fellow Curtis Cupper Jane Park with the victor earning a spot in Sunday's 36-hole final.

 

Carrying the Robert F. Cox Cup back to northern California would be the capper on a great year.

 

David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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