Women’s Amateur Veterans Crash Match-Play Party
Creekmore, 53, Grimes, 41, Among Three Mid-Amateurs To Advance From Stroke-Play Qualifying
By David Shefter, USGA
Roswell, Ga. – Doctors told Virginia Derby Grimes she might not ever swing a golf club again. Carolyn Creekmore thought she may never compete in this championship again.
But there were the two veterans of women’s amateur golf on Tuesday, strolling up and down the fairways of Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Course with more than just a nostalgic waggle to their gait.
This was no five-hour tour of this majestic venue in suburban Atlanta. Not when you are going to make the match-play cut at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur against competitors 20 and 30 years younger. In Creekmore’s case, some of the field could be mistaken for her grandchildren.
Twelve mid-amateurs (players 25 and older) started among the 156 competitors and only three advanced to match play (25-year-old Laura Matthews of Canada was the third). No player under the age of 30 has won this championship in the last 51 years and five of the last 10 winners have been teenagers, including 2004 titlist Jane Park (17).
Creekmore, a 53-year-old from Dallas, Texas, got here by winning the 2004 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. It’s her first Women’s Amateur since 1998 when she advanced to the second round at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich. All she did was post rounds of 71-76 over the 6,341-yard, par-72 Settindown layout. Grimes did Creekmore two better with a 71-74.
“I would call this a miracle,” said Creekmore, who once lived in Atlanta and had one of her best USGA finishes here in 1999 when she reached the quarterfinals of the Women’s Mid-Amateur held down the road at Cherokee Town and C.C. in Dunwoody. “That’s what I would call it. Who would have ever thought? I would have never thought it.”
The 41-year-old Grimes, the 1998 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion and ’04 runner-up as well as a two-time USA Curtis Cupper, underwent major back surgery three years ago. Some thought her future in the game would be as a spectator only. She missed four consecutive Women’s Amateurs from 2000-03, despite being exempt from her Curtis Cup selections.
But she refused to listen to any critics that she couldn’t make a comeback. Surgeons put titanium spacers with crushed stone to alleviate a degenerative disc and Grimes slowly worked her way back into physical shape. She walked around two days after the surgery and worked her way up to a mile. She was doing three miles by five weeks. That gradually led to stretching and massaging the soft tissue. That was followed by months of rehab in a heated pool. This process took nine months and eventually she could begin swinging a golf club eight months after the surgery.
In 2004, she qualified for the Women’s Amateur, but missed the cut. By the fall, however, her back was feeling great and she advanced all the way to the final match of the Women’s Mid-Amateur at Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, Tenn., losing to Corey Weworski.
This summer, the Montgomery, Ala., resident advanced to the quarterfinals of the Southern Amateur and the Women’s Trans-National, events that feature mostly juniors and collegians.
“I’ve been working really hard the last couple of months and it’s all started to click a little for me,” said Grimes, who helped Alabama win the 1997 USGA Women’s State Team Championship. “Things that I couldn’t do eight months ago, I can do now. We’ve tried to find something that works and I think we finally have clicked on it. I’m just better health-wise and I’m stronger.”
Playing against “the kids” certainly is invigorating and exciting for Grimes, who didn’t play many major competitions as a junior. It wasn’t until she got to Auburn that she began to compete on a national level. Auburn has even renamed its annual women’s tournament the Auburn Tiger Derby Invitational in honor of Grimes.
She was also quite happy to see fellow mid-amateur Creekmore advance in a field that featured just 12.
“It’s great,” she said. “For so long, we just didn’t have that many [career amateurs] playing. We were trying to count up the other day and I could only get to seven or eight [in this field]. I’m glad to be here.”
And what about match play? “I am actually looking forward to it,” said Grimes, whose best Women’s Amateur showing came in 1997 when she reached the third round. “We’ll see what we can do. I think experience helps you, no doubt.”
Experience is something Creekmore definitely possesses. This is her eighth Women’s Amateur, but she has played in dozens of Women’s Mid-Amateurs and two Senior Women’s Amateurs. She also represented Texas in the USGA Women’s State Team Championship, where her squad placed second in 1995.
But Creekmore, who works out vociferously (step aerobics) and trains horses on her ranch back in Texas, came into this event without a lick of expectations. She just wanted to enjoy the experience, especially the contestants’ dinner Saturday night where longtime rival and friend Carol Semple Thompson was honored for playing in her 100th USGA championship.
Playing competitive golf was just a bonus.
“I was just trying not to embarrass myself,” said Creekmore. “So I reached my first goal.”
When it began pouring rain during the first practice round on Saturday, Creekmore decided nine holes was enough and headed to her hotel, while her younger playing partners kept on going.
“I’m here to have fun and that wasn’t fun,” she said. “Those other girls are out there still having to play because it’s their career. I have no pressure. I’ve won a [USGA] championship. I’m grateful. I’m thrilled that I am able to play and … I’m glad the future is in good hands.”
Creekmore was once in those players’ shoes. After graduating from Arizona State, she tried the professional circuit for four years, didn’t make any money and quit. She got her amateur status back in 1984 and has been enjoying amateur golf ever since.
“I like having a house and a dog and a boyfriend (former Green Bay Packers running back Donnie Anderson),” said Creekmore. “I like those things.”
As for match play, Creekmore will just utilize her skills and hope for the best. She knows she can’t out-drive these wunderkinds but she can play smart and savvy golf. And sometimes that’s good enough against the young guns.
“I know I can still play,” she said. “It’s clear. [Length] is not all there is. On some courses, it would be all there is, but not on this one. I cannot hit it as far as they hit it, so all I can do is play my game.”
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.
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.