Fan-Favorite McCurdy Comes Up One Match Short

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Erie, Pa. Amanda McCurdy's roots are in southern Arkansas, but she definitely left her heart in northwestern Pennsylvania this past week.

 

A virtual unknown at the start of the 104th U.S. Women's Amateur at The Kahkwa Club, the 20-year-old McCurdy, a junior-to-be at the University of Arkansas, quickly became a fan favorite. Whether it was her diminutive 5-foot-1 frame or just her feistiness on the golf course, people in Erie fell in love with her.

 

Amanda McCurdy dazzled the crowds at Kahkwa Club with her big heart and gutsy play during the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

She was the underdog and Cinderella story. Too bad Bill Murray wasn't around.

 

The girl from a small blue-collar town (El Dorado) came to the right place. Erie might have more inhabitants, but its residents can relate to that type of upbringing.

 

During Sunday's 36-hole championship match against the more-heralded 17-year-old teen from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Jane Park, it was easy to see who the crowd was pulling for. Anytime McCurdy hit it close, she drew the biggest applause. Even Park recognized it, although she did her best to block it out. Last year at Philadelphia Country Club, Park, at 16, was the decided underdog against 21-year-old Duke University All-American Virada Nirapathpongporn.

 

“It was a really tough crowd,” admitted Park. “Even though I hit a good shot it was nothing. And that shot on four [in the afternoon 18], when I hit it to [six] feet, I thought it was 50 feet away. I was like, whoah!”

 

Not that Park isn't personable or charming – she is and very southern-California cool with her sunglasses and white bucket hat – but McCurdy had something that the fans could relate to. She was the X-factor in a field full of headliners that not only included Park, but 18-year-old Paula Creamer, 14-year-old Michelle Wie, 16-year-old Morgan Pressel, 13-year-old Isabelle Lendl and a slew of collegiate All-Americans like Elizabeth Janangelo, Brittany Lang, Sarah Huarte, Nicole Hage and Charlotte Mayorkas.

 

It just goes to show what one great week at the Women's Amateur can do for someone's career and confidence. Becky Lucidi wasn't a household name, either, two years ago when she emerged as the champion over another unheralded player, Brandi Jackson.

 

Yes, McCurdy lost this match, 2 up, but LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam also lost a Women's Amateur final in 1992 to Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, who happened to be a college teammate at the University of Georgia with McCurdy's current Arkansas coach, Kelley Hester.

 

Among Amanda McCurdy's supporters this week was her head coach at the University of Arkansas, Kelley Hester, who flew in Friday night for the final two rounds of match play. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Hester flew up on Friday night after the quarterfinals to lend support and a big Arkansas booster, Trevor Lavy, chartered a plane from Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday night to bring his family and former Arkansas coach Ulrika Belline to Erie for the final. Lavy's oldest daughter, Brittany, will be a freshman this fall at Arkansas.

 

“It was pretty neat,” said McCurdy, whose father, David, caddied for her while her mother followed the matches on the USGA Web site. “It's always good to have supporters, but I could barely find them amongst all the other supporters I had. Al l the marshals had on red shirts and they seemed to blend in. They said they did it for the Hogs (Arkansas' nickname), so I appreciated that.

 

“And I really can't say enough about the support that I got from this crowd and hopefully that will continue. I made a lot of new friends this week. That helped me a lot. That's why it made it so hard not to win.”

 

But you can't say she didn't go down without trying. Facing a 3-hole deficit with four holes to play, McCurdy won holes 33 and 35 to trim the margin to one, yet she couldn't take the 36th hole from Park.

 

Nevertheless, it was a week she'll never forget and a confidence booster for her final two years at Arkansas.

 

“Her iron play was really outstanding,” said Hester. “She continued to give herself good opportunities and she wasn't able to make the putts she needed to win. She was very controlled.

 

“We may need to get her a convertible now for that confidence she now has in her big head. But that's good. She should use this as a sounding board to move on to better things. It absolutely helps the team [for the coming season].”

 

Added McCurdy: “It feels good to leave here with more people knowing me and maybe not underestimating me in the future. That's all I can say about how much experience I got this week. And what great players I played against. I know I'm going to be better for this.

 

“I'll be back next year and I'm so excited to get to play in the [U.S. Women's] Open. I don't have to qualify. How great is that? Of course I wish I would have won. I'm a competitor and I hate to come this far and not come out on top, but second place isn't all that bad.”

 

Just ask Park. She lost in 2003 and won in '04. McCurdy can do the same. The tough thing facing her is a 16-hour car ride back to El Dorado.

 

As she exited the room, someone brought that up. “I'm not looking forward to that,” she said.

 

But she'll have lots of time to go over the memories of one special week.

 

Notes: Katie Hersch of Villa Maria High School, the 2003 District 10 high school girls' champion, and Joel Hobson of Union City High, the 2004 Erie District Golf Association Junior Match Play champion, had the honor of being standard bearers for the morning 18 of the 36-hole championship match … For the afternoon 18, Ashley Lindenberger, who plays for the McDowell High girls' team, and Jeff Ellis, a member of the Mercyhurst Prep golf team, acted as standard bearers … Huge galleries attended the week-long championship at gallery and much of it had to do with prep work done by Judy Saurer, who coordinated media coverage for the club. Saurer met with members of the local press prior to the event and all of the television stations and some of the radio stations covered the competition with highlights and human-interest stories. The Erie-Times sent as many as five reporters each day to the course and treated the Women's Amateur as if it were the U.S. Open with full-page stories, columns and features. An estimated 4,000 spectators attended Sunday's 36-hole final and many believe it was one of the best attended Women's Amateurs in recent history … The 2005 Women's Amateur will be held at Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., a course designed by Bob Cupp. The 2006 Women's Amateur is scheduled for Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., another course designed by Cupp and former U.S. Amateur champion John Fought.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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