Relaxed And Ready
Counting Semple Thompson, 13 Curtis Cuppers In Field
By Ken Klavon, USGA
North Plains, Ore. – They came and went as teammates, bonding because of the experience. Now they become adversaries again when the U.S. Women’s Amateur kicks off Monday. Strange days indeed.
Twelve of the 16 competitors in last week’s Curtis Cup Match will be vying for The Cox Cup at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club’s Witch Hollow course. Broken down, the entire USA lineup except for 2004 runner-up Amanda McCurdy will be playing. Even USA captain Carol Semple Thompson, who won in 1973, joins in on the fun.
On the Great Britain and Ireland side, five of the eight players – Claire Coughlan, Naomi Edwards, Martina Gillen, Kiran Matharu and Melissa Reid – took a five-hour bus ride up the Oregon coast at a leisurely pace on Monday. They awoke at 5 a.m. and slept part of the way in between soaking up breath-taking Pacific Ocean scenery.
Then they shopped.
“A lot of shopping,” said a laughing Edwards, 23, of England.
They visited the Nike Factory in nearby Beaverton. That was before Edwards spent $300 on a new iPod. That helped her get over a stinging 11½-6½ defeat.
“It was a big disappointment,” said Edwards, playing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur. “But we’re a happy family. We’re all depressed, not because of losing, but because we enjoyed each other. But it’s a new tournament and we’re ready to go now.”
In between the shopping, Edwards and 17-year-old compatriot Matharu did manage to get in a round at Pumpkin Ridge on Thursday with one of the club’s co-partners, Gay Davis. Matharu also tried qualifying for the Safeway Classic Amateur Open, which offers one spot into the Safeway Classic LPGA Tournament, Friday but soldiered through massive stomach cramps to shoot 74 and finish in the top five.
With little wind lashing the course like it did at Pacific Dunes, Matharu indicated there’s very little comparison to Pumpkin Ridge. The greens are undulating but not as severe as Pacific Dunes. However, Matharu felt they were running faster at Pumpkin Ridge.
“It’s tough and quite tight,” said Matharu. “But I like that. It makes me concentrate better.”
Coming off an emotional high, that’s the intention of the U.S.-born players as well. That’s why Taylor Leon, 19, headed back to her home in Dallas, Texas. She wanted to clear her mind and pack for her sophomore season at the University of Georgia. But she found 25 new admirers waiting to congratulate her on a socializing teen Web site when she checked her account.
Nineteen-year-old teammate Amanda Blumenherst, nicknamed ‘Blumenbeast’ by her Curtis Cup teammates for her length off the tee, also used the time to get away. She went to Sea Lion Caves, located along the Oregon coast, visited four different types of coves and helped a cousin hunt for hermit crabs. After that, she played several practice rounds – one with teammate Jane Park – to familiarize herself with the nuances of Pumpkin Ridge. In some ways, she found it strange to share ideas with Park because they’re now trying to beat each other.
“It was weird having a practice round together,” said Blumenherst, a sophomore-to-be at Duke University. “On one par 3, we were like, ‘What did you hit?’ Because at the Curtis Cup, we’d bounce ideas off each other. But now it’s match play and different.”
Perhaps no one will feel more different than Semple Thompson. Coming off her first stint as Curtis Cup captain, she took her time getting to Pumpkin Ridge. She hung back at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with 20-year-old Jenny Suh and sharpened her game by playing twice. She migrated north to Eugene Country Club (site of the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur) and got in a round with 1972 Women’s Amateur champion Mary Budke, a former Curtis Cup teammate and the 2002 USA Curtis Cup captain. It might seem that someone who has qualified for this championship 41 times would be ready.
Not so, said Semple Thompson, adding that courses have gotten longer over the years.
“I think it’s a little long for me,” said Semple Thompson of Witch Hollow’s 6,416-yard layout. “I’m very short now compared to these players. It’ll be a challenge.
“The difference for me is that my golf has deteriorated. I feel comfortable here as a player. But I feel really short. I’m not hitting the ball solidly. I haven’t practiced my short game as much.”
If she qualifies for match play and wins one round, she said she’d “be in heaven.”
In retrospect, Semple Thompson sensed last week that her persona and seven USGA titles as a player may have cast her as ‘the old wise one.’ On the contrary. She learned too.
“I have really learned how good they really are,” said Thompson, who will be competing in her 103rd USGA championship. “They’re complete players now. They can do everything well. There is so much depth in all of the fields.”
In any case, the chances are decent that former teammates will have to square off in match play this week. All of them expressed readiness. Leon compared it to her days at Georgia where events are played as a team.
“But golf is always an individual sport,” said Leon.
Or, in the case of Park, the 2004 champion, she’ll force her mind into a neutral groove if she happens to duel against a friend.
“Whoever I have to play against,” said Park, “you just have to think of them as someone else.”
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.