Championship Notebook: Underdog Martinez Wins Over Fans, Not Trophy

By David Shefter, USGA

Roswell, Ga. – The championship match of the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur had reached the 21st hole at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course when a young fan asked her father who was winning.

“[Morgan] Pressel is 6 up,” he told her.

In a faint voice, the young girl said, “She is not the one we are rooting for.”

Obviously this youngster had joined the Maru Martinez bandwagon. Many of the approximate 500 fans who attended Sunday’s 36-hole final were rooting for the fiery 21-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela.

Perhaps it was Martinez’s spunk and guile. Maybe it was because her college affiliation. Martinez is entering her senior year at Auburn, where she plays on the school’s women’s golf team and this, after all, was Southeastern Conference territory.

Or, perhaps, it was the underdog role Martinez had against the 17-year-old favorite Pressel.

Last year, Amanda McCurdy gained her own allegiance of fans as she advanced through the field at The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa., only to be stopped in the final by 17-year-old Jane Park, 2 up. The diminutive McCurdy was from a small town in Arkansas (El Dorado) and displayed her emotions with every stroke. Her demonstrative actions on the course made her a loveable underdog for the folks in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The spunky Martinez won over fans with her indominable spirit and never-give-up attitude. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Ditto for Martinez, whose spitfire attitude warmed the gallery throughout the latter stages of the championship. Her Auburn teammates – current and future – dressed for the occasion, applying different orange and blue mantras to their faces. Some said, “Go Maru,” while others had “Rudy” written on their cheeks, the affectionate nickname Lady Tigers golf coach Kim Evans has given Martinez.

And whenever Martinez came up with a clutch shot, the gallery would whoop and holler like they were at the Iron Bowl between Auburn-Alabama game.

“It was like a college football game,” said Pressel, describing the atmosphere.

Pressel actually wore an orange outfit for the afternoon round, realizing too late that those are part of Auburn’s school colors.

“I actually thought about that as I was putting it on,” said Pressel, who won 9 and 8. “Look, I’m wearing deep orange, but it was loud out there. They were screaming.”

Martinez, of course, recognized the cheers and tried her best to keep the noise level going. On the way into the club, a big sign was erected by some Auburn fans wishing Martinez good luck in the final.

“The support has been amazing,” said Martinez. “It’s the first time I feel that – it was the first time in the finals of a championship like this. It’s really exciting and I can’t wait until I get to the LPGA Tour. I love it.”

During the post-championship prize ceremony, Martinez broke down into tears while thanking her family for being here this week. Her father, Julio, caddied for her, while her 10-year-old brother, also named Julio, and her mother, Maria, were also in the gallery the entire week.

Auburn’s Rudy

Auburn women’s golf coach Kim Evans gives each of her team members a nickname to describe a common trait. Former player Diana Ramage, a quarterfinalist in the Women’s Amateur last year, was called “Dirty.” Current player Nicole Hage is named “Princess.” Martinez received the moniker “Rudy,” but the South American was unaware of the better-known character, who was immortalized in the Hollywood movie about his character.

Rudy Ruetteger walked on at Notre Dame under the heaviest odds and spent two seasons as a practice-squad player on the school’s nationally ranked football team. He never dressed for a game despite an impeccable work ethic, but his teammates rallied around him and got Coach Dan Devine to agree to dress him for the final game of the regular season against Georgia Tech. Ruetteger came in and made a sack on the game’s final play. Teammates then carried him off the field.

Martinez was asked if she had ever heard of “Rudy” or seen the movie, but she did not who this person was or had seen the movie.

In a way, Martinez embodies the “Rudy” spirit of never giving up, something she showed in her 19-hole quarterfinal victory over Jenny Suh of Fairfax, Va. Suh had a 4-foot putt to win the match at 17, but missed. At 18, Martinez stuck an approach shot to three feet for a birdie and then won on the first extra hole with a birdie putt.

But against Pressel, Martinez lost three consecutive holes to close the morning 18 and never mustered enough strength to regroup for the afternoon round.

“When I came out on the second round, I came out with the best thoughts,” said Martinez. “Four down is nothing. You can make four birdies and come back, but it never happened. My body wasn’t responding the way I wanted it to.”

Martinez dumped her tee shot into the hazard on the 22nd  hole and her approach to the 26th hole also found the water.

“I just had to laugh, because I didn’t do that the whole week,” she said. “I can’t tell you what happened. I didn’t feel it was my routine or mindset. It just happened. Golf is like that sometimes.”

Nice Consolation

Martinez didn’t walk away with the Robert F. Cox Cup, but she did get some nice exemptions by reaching the finals. She doesn’t have to qualify for the next three U.S.  Women’s Amateurs and she has a full exemption into the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. Newport is one of the five founding clubs of the USGA and it hosted the 1995 U.S. Amateur, won by Tiger Woods.

Martinez has tried to qualify for the last three U.S. Women’s Opens, but has come up just short at the sectionals.

“That’s great,” she said. “I’ve been alternate. The first two years I lost in the playoff for the last spot. This year, I missed by a shot.”

Martinez said she likely will play the 2006 Women’s Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge outside of Portland, Ore., before possibly turning pro next fall. She graduates from Auburn next spring, but she may wait until after the 2006 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship, set for October in South Africa. She was one of the top finishers at the 2004 event in Puerto Rico when Venezuela tied for 11th.

By The Numbers

The 9-and-8 margin was the fourth-largest in the championship’s history. Ann Quast Sander defeated Phyllis Preuss, 14 and 13, in the 1961 final. Glenna Collett downed Virginia Van Wie, 13 and 12, in 1928 and Babe Didrikson Zaharias turned back Clara Sherman, 11 and 9, in 1946. In more recent memory, Marcy Newton (now Hart) defeated Laura Myerscough, 8 and 7, in the 2000 final at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore.

Filing Away A Keepsake

Moments after the championship match had ended, Pressel’s caddie Sam Hinshaw made sure she had a memento from her first victory as a caddie. She was given the flag from the 10th hole, where the 36-hole final concluded.

”This is my first flag and it was documented by The Golf Channel,” said Hinshaw, who has been a professional caddie for seven years. “And I will get that tape if I have to kill somebody. I will get that tape.”

Hinshaw hooked up with Pressel for the final day of the Michelob Ultra Classic in Williamsburg, Va., earlier this spring. Pressel’s caddie developed blisters and couldn’t go for the final two rounds on that Sunday. Thirty-six holes were being played because of inclement weather earlier in the week and the caddiemaster at the LPGA tournament asked if she wanted to caddie for the 17-year-old. The two formed a friendship and have worked two other LPGA events since and the U.S. Women’s Open, where Pressel finished tied for second.

Support Group

Pressel had her own gallery of fans as well, including her grandfather, Herb Krickstein, and grandmother, Evelyn. Pressel lives with her grandparents and is very close to him. His son, Aaron, was a professional tennis player and still competes in Senior events. When asked if she had heard from uncle Aaron this week, Pressel said he hadn’t called yet.

“I think he’s at Disney World with his little daughter,” said Pressel, “so I haven’t talked to him. But I’m sure my grandpa has called him.”

Pressel’s mom, Kathy, was also a standout tennis player for the University of Michigan. She died in 2003 from breast cancer.

A few friends from St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton also showed up for the final. One person drove in from North Carolina and another person flew down from New York.

Role Model

All week, the competitors signed plenty of autographs for the fans, especially the young kids. Pressel was no exception. She was a big hit with a lot of young girls and Pressel understands the importance of making connections with the next generation.

“I know that I always have to act well and behave properly,” she said. “I just know that little kids are watching everything that I do. And some of them might try and copy it.”

As for advice to any young girl interested in taking up the game, she added: “Just keep trying and have fun is the most important part. I know everybody says that, but it’s not because … it’s true. Everybody should have fun. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth it.”

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

 

 

U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship

TICKETS – Admission and parking for all seven days of the championship are free of charge.

WHO CAN PLAY? – The U.S. Women’s Amateur is open to female amateurs who have USGA Handicap Indexes not exceeding 5.4. Entries closed June 15.

DEFENDING CHAMPION – Jane Park, 18, or Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., will defend the title she won in 2004.

THE FIELD – The 2005 field will include seven Georgia players. They are Laura Coble of Augusta, Jackie Beers of Bonaire, Alina Lee of Evans, Kyu Ri Ban of Duluth, Dori Carter of Valdosta, Diana Ramage of Fayetteville and Margaret Shirley of Roswell.

TELEVISION COVERAGE – Match-play rounds will be telecast on The Golf Channel Aug. 3-7 from 4-6 p.m., EDT.

OTHER PROMINENT PAST CHAMPIONS – Patty Berg, 1938; Betty Jameson, 1939, 1940; Babe Didrickson Zaharias, 1946; Louise Suggs, 1947; Beth Daniel, 1975, 1977; Juli Simpson (Inkster), 1980, 1981, 1982; Pat Hurst, 1990; Kelli Kuehne, 1995, 1996; Grace Park, 1998; Dorothy Delasin, 1999.

CHAMPIONSHIP COURSE CONDITIONS – The following mowing heights will be used for the championship: fairways 1/2"; tees 7/16"; collars 1/4". Putting greens will be prepared so that they are firm and fast; to measure approximately 11 feet on the USGA Stimpmeter. Intermediate rough: 1", width approximately 72" along fairways, width approximately 30" wide around putting greens. Primary rough: 2 1/4".

FUTURE WOMEN’S AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP SITES – The 2006 U. S. Women’s Amateur will be conducted at Pumpkin Ridge G.C., North Plains, Ore., Aug. 7 – 13.

MEDIA CONTACT – The Media Center for the U.S. Women’s Amateur will be located in the main clubhouse at Ansley Golf Club. Rhonda Glenn and Beth Murrison will be the USGA staff members on site. The Media Center phone numbers are (678)639-7488 and (678)639-7494.

 

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