Experience Triumphs Over Youth

Hartwiger, 38, Eliminates 13-Year-Old Isabelle Lendl

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Erie, Pa. – Not many sports offer the opportunity for a 38-year-old to take on a 13-year-old eighth-grader in a fair and equitable competition.

 

Kathy Hartwiger, 38, focused hard over her last eight holes to edge 13-year-old Isabelle Lendl, 3 and 1. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Golf is one of the few exceptions. On Wednesday at The Kahkwa Club, the youngest player remaining in the U.S. Women's Amateur field faced the oldest in the opening round of match play.

 

This time, experience trumped youth, but it wasn't all that easy. Isabelle Lendl, one of five daughters of former tennis great Ivan Lendl, gave 2002 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion Kathy Hartwiger a challenge. In fact, the Goshen, Conn., resident had a two-hole lead through the first nine holes, only to watch her veteran opponent rally to win five of the first six holes in a 3-and-1 victory.

 

The turning point came at the par-4 13th when Lendl, playing in her first Women's Amatuer and second USGA competition (she failed to make match play at the Girls' Junior last month in Texas), pulled a 5-foot par putt to go down one hole. It was the first time the entire match that the poised youngster showed any outpouring of emotion. At the par-5 14th hole, Lendl again missed a 9-footer for par to lose the hole.

 

“[Experience] helped a lot,” said Hartwiger, who faces 18-year-old Brittany Lincicome of Seminole, Fla., in round two on Thursday morning. “I really didn't get nervous at all because I knew there were a lot of holes [left] and I've been up plenty on people. There's always a place, I think, where they let you back in. And I knew that would probably come and I just had to step in when she opened the door.”

 

Hartwiger has been on the other side of comebacks. She owned a 4-up lead on Diana Ramage in the second round of last year's Women's Amateur, only to lose, 2 up.

 

This time, Hartwiger kept applying the pressure, hitting a 7-wood at the par-3 15th hole to within inches of the hole. Danny Cullen, a local caddie who is on Hartwiger's bag this week, actually talked her out of hitting a 4-wood, knowing that she has been long with her tee shots on that hole.

 

Isabelle Lendl showed poise and tenacity far beyond her 13 years this week at the U.S. Women's Amateur, her second-ever USGA competition. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Lendl kept the match going at 16 by holing her only birdie of the match, a 40-footer from the front of the green. Hartwiger failed to hole her chip shot from behind the green. At 17, Lendl pulled her drive into the left rough behind some trees and was forced to punch out. A double-bogey 6 led to a concession of Hartwiger's par putt.

 

Kathy played really well,” said Lendl, who had her famous father on her bag this week. “I played all right, so congratulations to her.”

 

But it was Hartwiger who came away with newfound respect for Lendl. On the front nine, Lendl converted several clutch par putts, including a 12-foot downhiller at six, when it appeared that Hartwiger might build a big lead. Hartwiger, however, missed a short par putt at No. 5 and could not get up and down for par at seven to fall two holes down.

 

At nine, Lendl two-putted from a very difficult spot from 40 feet above the hole to earn another halve.

 

“The strong parts of her game are my strong parts,” said Hartwiger. “I just told her I don't want to play her next year. She's good. But look who her dad is. She's got a lot of athletic ability anyway. He really helps her out with the mental side. They are a good team together.”

 

Isabelle seems to have that same competitive fire her dad possesses on the tennis court. Who could forget his memorable comeback from a two sets to none deficit in the 1984 French Open final against John McEnroe. Today, Ivan Lendl is one of the top players on the celebrity circuit.

 

But he has passed his passion for the game on to his daughters. Marika, 15, Isabelle and Daniela, 11, all love golf, while 13-year-old Caroline (Isabelle 's twin) and 6-year-old Nikki have other interests, mainly horseback riding.

 

Ivan also has taught his daughters proper etiquette and how to conduct themselves properly on the golf course. Even though Isabelle said she has never broken or thrown a club, she did gesture once and it cost her dearly.

 

“He put my clubs in the garage for three months,” said Isabelle. “I never did it again.”

 

During the match, Ivan made sure that Isabelle didn't step in Hartwiger's line of putt and conceded a putt when the situation called for it. Isabelle also verbally said “great shot” when Hartwiger hit one close, something you don't always see from opponents in match play.

 

“He's very much aware of that and he's teaching her [etiquette] as they go,” said Hartwiger. “He's tremendous.

 

“On that hole (15) where I almost had the hole in one, he said [tongue and cheek], ‘It's too bad you were up in front of the tee markers.' I said, ‘Wouldn't that hurt.' He said, ‘I tell you, if you were, I would never let my daughter call that on you. She would have to tell you prior to you hitting or have to not see it.' I said, ‘Well, you are a good dad.' ”

 

Since the Girls' Junior in July, Isabelle has been separated from her older sister. Marika reached the third round of match play at that championship and has since competed in several American Junior Golf Association events. The two talked on the phone once Tuesday night and three times Wednesday morning before the match. Marika is in the Boston area for an AJGA tournament.

 

“We both wished each other good luck,” said Isabelle. “We have a healthy competition. We bet for chores.”

 

Asked what she won for making match play this week, Isabelle quipped: “Nothing.”

 

But the week was a good learning experience despite the disappointment of not advancing to the second round.

 

“I've come a long way,” said Isabelle, who has been playing the game for five years. “The experience that [other players] give me by watching them … helps a lot.”

 

For Hartwiger, the goal now is to get past round two, something she has never done at the Women's Amateur in her distinguished career.

 

“That [streak] needs to be broken,” she said. “That's pretty much my entire record. Every time I come and do that (lose in round two).”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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