Going Hog Wild

Arkansas Junior McCurdy Surprise Underdog Finalist After Upsetting Creamer


By David Shefter, USGA


Erie, Pa. America loves an underdog.


Well, the 104th U.S. Women's Amateur has an under-Hog.


Amanda McCurdy was pumped after upsetting 2004 Curtis Cupper Paula Creamer in Saturday's semifinals at the Women's Amateur. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Amanda McCurdy, the pride of the University of Arkansas (nicknamed the Razorbacks or Hogs depending on who you talk to) and a 5-foot-1 dynamo of a golfer, has become the true Cinderella story at Kahkwa Club this week. Had Danny Sheridan put odds on her reaching Sunday's 36-hole final, they might have been longer than the Washington Generals beating the Harlem Globetrotters.


Not many gave the El Dorado, Ark., resident much of a chance to beat 18-year-old Paula Creamer in Saturday's semifinals. Creamer's credentials read like a Who's Who of accomplishments: American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year; low amateur at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open, 2004 USA Curtis Cup member; semifinalist at the 2003 Women's Amateur; second place at the LPGA Tour's ShopRite Classic in June and so on.


McCurdy's claim to fame: 2004 Arkansas Women's Amateur champion and winner of one college tournament (Landfall Tradition last fall in Wilmington, N.C.). She did lose a playoff to Nicole Melton of Texas A&M at Arkansas' own tournament, shooting 3 over par over 54 holes.


“I kept getting asked yesterday, ‘Do you realize who you are playing and are you nervous?’ ” said McCurdy, who is entering her junior year at Arkansas. “I'm like no, because none of you expect me to win so really why am I nervous? What do I have to be nervous about? I came into this tournament as a no-namer … and everybody knew the marquee names, so I have nothing to lose.”


In fact, it was Creamer who looked nervous. Playing in her fourth consecutive USGA amateur semifinal, she was hoping to avoid the final-four jinx that somehow has plagued this talented teen from Pleasonton, Calif. Not so.


McCurdy played consistent, steady golf, making two birdies (one conceded) and one bogey over 14 holes in a shocking 6-and-4 victory over Creamer. Creamer hit 11 of 12 fairways, but just five of 14 greens and had 24 putts. McCurdy hit nine of 12 fairways, 10 of 14 greens and had 23 putts.


The victory puts her into Sunday's 36-hole final against 17-year-old Jane Park of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the 2003 Women's Amateur runner-up and another Curtis Cupper.


Paula Creamer, left, is consoled by her caddie/boyfriend Tarik Can following her loss to Amanda McCurdy. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

“She played good golf and that's all I can say,” said a disappointed Creamer, who will play in her sixth women's professional event of 2004 next week in Dublin, Ohio. “I gave it to her. She didn't have to do anything. There was no pressure on her whatsoever and when you are in that situation, you are benefiting that person. You are pumping them up.


“It was just not my day. I was like in five divots today. When that's the case, it is kind of a sign.”


The disappointment showed immediately following the match when Creamer hugged Christi Dickinson of the USGA Women's Committee for almost a minute. But a few minutes later, she was signing autographs for several fans.


Asked if she feels cursed about getting so close to all these finals without playing in one, Creamer added: “Kind of. Something new has to happen please. … This was the one tournament I really wanted to win. I worked hard for this.”


It's hard to figure what cloud McCurdy is riding on at this point. When told that reaching the championship match earned her exemption into the 2005 U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills Country Club, her father and caddie, David, could barely hold back the excitement. McCurdy spent several minutes making cellphone calls to well-wishers and family members back in Arkansas.


On Friday night after the quarterfinal victory over Sun-Young Yoo, McCurdy had 24 voice mails, including one from 2004 Women's Amateur participant and 2003 Women's Mid-Amateur runner-up Shannon Ogg.


Upon hearing the news that McCurdy had advanced to the semis, Arkansas golf coach Kelley Hester jumped in her car and made airline reservations as she drove toward the airport in Fayetteville. Connecting in Memphis and eventually landing in Cleveland, Hester made the two-hour drive to Erie and arrived by midnight.


“I wouldn't have missed this for the world,” said Hester prior to the match.


In fact, McCurdy ran into her coach at the hotel late Friday evening, perhaps a little too late for Hester's liking.


“I was on the phone when she got off the elevator,” McCurdy said. “I made the mistake of pointing out the fact that I was still up and on the phone. She told me to get off it and so I talked to her for a few minutes and then went to bed.


“But as far as people go, she is my idol. If you take away golfers, I look up to her more than anything. It's awesome for her to be here right now. She's the reason why I am here, other than my instructor [Amy Fox].”


Three years ago McCurdy and Creamer actually crossed paths for the first and only time in their careers – until Saturday. They were both entered in an American Junior Golf Association event in Mobile, Ala., one of two McCurdy competed in as a youth. Creamer was only 14 at the time and McCurdy 17, but McCurdy saw the talent then. Nicole Hage, also a competitor at the Women's Amateur this week, wound up winning, but McCurdy had a strong showing as well.


Since then, she has competed in relative obscurity compared to many of the other headliners here this week. Sometimes that can work in a player's benefit and McCurdy used that as her modus operandi on Saturday.


“Even though she's got tons more experience,” said McCurdy, “she's human like every other player and I knew that if I went out there and got on my game plan, and got up on her early that that would be good. That's what I did.”


Creamer's armor showed a crack at the third hole when she three-putted from 40 feet. Then at No. 5, Creamer's drive hit a tree in the left rough and all she could was punch the ball up the fairway. Her third shot came up 45 feet short and a two-putt bogey gave McCurdy a 2-up lead.


But the turning point came at No. 7 after McCurdy's drive landed above a bunker on the upslope. All she could do was punch an 8-iron to 150 yards short of the flag where she proceeded to hit a 5-iron thin that bounced off the false front and stopped eight feet from the hole. She converted the par putt while Creamer missed a 4-footer for par.


“You could see her reaction in the fairway,” said Creamer. “It was bad. She hit it thin and if you hit it thin into that green it doesn't roll down the hill. She made a great save and I think that was the turning point.


“I was never up in the match and I never really felt comfortable out there.”


Even a birdie at No. 8, which was the only hole Creamer won, didn't do the trick. McCurdy birdied nine with a 5-iron approach to four feet – “That club is sweet,” said David McCurdy at the ninth green – and Creamer three-putted at 10, missing a 3-footer for par with a very tentative stroke. From there, McCurdy was on cruise control and she didn't let up like she did in the quarterfinals when she had a 6-up lead on Sun-Young Yoo and saw it trimmed to 3 up before winning 3 and 2.


“I could see the frustration in her,” said Amanda McCurdy, “because I know she wasn't playing her best golf. I could see the frustration in her putting for sure.”


Still, McCurdy didn't take the lead for granted. It wasn't until the 14th tee that she felt totally convinced the match was hers.


“When they said I was dormie,” said McCurdy. “I thought I'm good. I can tie her on one hole. So we're good to go.”


Creamer actually topped her second shot from the fairway and failed to reach the par-5 green in regulation before conceding McCurdy's 8-footer for birdie.


And that certainly eased the tension for David McCurdy. The win meant one more day in Erie, thus avoiding that 16-hour drive home for at least another 24 hours.


“It's been an expensive week,” said David of the financial cost of spending seven-plus nights in a hotel. “But that's OK.”


Of course, if Amanda wins she has promised to do the Souey Call from Arkansas for ESPN and The Golf Channel.


“I didn't know you all said on camera,” said McCurdy. “I wasn't excited about that, but I will probably be so elated if I win that I will do whatever. You might want to catch me right after it though because I'll probably be pretty emotional.”


You could say McCurdy will be in Hog Heaven.


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









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