Expressive Uribe Talks Way To Success
By Ken Klavon, USGA
North Plains, Ore. – She is as colorful as her outfits, a loose cannon of energy encased in a golfer’s body.
Maria Jose Uribe, just 16 years of age, is a joy to watch because of her unbridled enthusiasm. The Colombian clearly wears her heart on her sleeve, living and dying with every shot, just as she did in her 4-and-3 victory over 15-year-old Jane Rah of Torrance, Calif., in Wednesday’s first round of match play at the 2006 U.S. Women's Amateur being played at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club's Witch Hollow Course.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare Uribe to former Major League Baseball flash-in-the-pan pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who captivated the nation 30 years ago with his goofball antics. She is the modern-age version, although not as far out in left field as Fidyrch was, so to speak. Like Fidrych, Uribe converses with her ball when playing, except she hasn’t quite figured out that the ball doesn’t talk back.
Or has she?
“Yeah, I know but sometimes the ball doesn’t,” she said laughing.
It’s not uncommon to see Uribe coddle and then solicit positive results. Nearly every shot has a verbal addendum to it with each follow-through of the swing.
“It’s like the ball is my friend,” she said.
Friend? If she could be one with the ball, ala “Caddyshack’s” Ty Webb, she’d certainly ride shotgun. And tell it where to go, of course.
A saucy “Uh huh!” comes out when she likes a shot a lot and “Go ball go!” is a more prickly self-deprecating jab at herself for being short. They are two of her favorite English expressions from a reservoir of words that are mainly spoken in her native tongue.
Just call Uribe the modern-day South American version of Fidrych. The difference between the two is that Uribe knows she’s doing it, and not necessarily for show. It is, more or less, a demonstrative outlet.
“I work with my psychologist to just keep them in,” she said of her emotions.
“I’m not yelling as much now. I use to yell more.”
She’s so demonstrative that she has not one, but two psychologists: Sandra Garcia in Colombia and Steve Russo in Hilton Head, S.C., where she attends a golf academy. They have tried working on her with staying focused and tout. That’s before she smashes the ball. After that, all bets are off.
“When I hit the ball, I can do what I want,” she said.
And usually she does. It’s entertaining to watch her putt. She said she loves to salsa and sometimes it looks as though she’s intertwined the Spanish dance with golf. Besides, the Rules of Golf state nothing about salsa-ing as an infraction.
Uribe will coil her body in painful-looking twists more often than a circus contortionist. On the par-3 10th, holding a 3-up lead, Uribe’s 10-foot putt ran toward the hole and, with it, her passion. As the ball slithered closer, Uribe held the putter over her head and awkwardly bounced her buttocks off the turf. “It’s just instinct,” said Uribe, who will be a senior in high school. “It’s not like I am thinking about it. I enjoy it. It does not mean I’m not happy.”
Fellow compatriot Eileen Vargas, 21, knows Uribe from playing with her in Colombia. During the South American Amateur, analogous to a Canon Cup setup where South Americans only face each other, Uribe was her teammate. Vargas, who competes for Pepperdine University, found it refreshing to be around someone so animated.
“She’s 16 years old,” said Vargas after outlasting England’s Melissa Reid in 19 holes in the first round. “It’s good that she can be so spontaneous and expressive. She’s funny.”
Her clothes fit her free-spirited personality that is dominated by an infectious smile. Bright colors are the standard, and so are the multi-shaded ear-rings that dangle innocently by.
Uribe traveled from her hometown of Bucaramanga to play this week, even though she lived in Hilton Head until late July. Bucaramanga is a northeastern agricultural city populated with a little more than one million people. Uribe took up the sport when she was 9. It’s difficult to perfect, let alone play, because private clubs are the norm. She worked on her trade at a resort, dreaming of one day turning professional. She got her first taste this year, participating in the U.S. Women’s Open at Newport (R.I.) Country Club.
After a brief stint living in Hilton Head, she moved back home to live with her parents, Jorge Uribe and Carmen Duran.
When there she trains mercilessly. Her day consists of doing a combination of yoga, pilates, aerobics and free weights for an hour, starting at 6:30 a.m. Then she’ll work on her game from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., with a brief respite for lunch. After that, it’s back to the gym for more exercise until 8 p.m.
Her caddie, Pedro Russi, has also been her lifelong instructor and to some degree, her ‘third’ psychologist as well.
“It’s the physical and mental game,” Russi said he must manage. He marvels at her ability to drive the ball long, her brazen short game and consistency around the green.
“Because [she is] so emotional, sometimes I have to calm her down,” added Russi.
You don’t say.
Whether she’s up or down in a match, Russi’s strategy is to tell Uribe that she should always play like she’s 2 down. It worked Wednesday after Uribe lost the first two holes to Rah. But again, Uribe talked her way through it as if she was trying to solve a crossword puzzle.
She chastised her ball with a “come on ball” at the par-3 fifth as it meandered 14 feet toward the hole, all the while slinking her 5-foot-6 frame into a tight crouch. The ball dropped in to square the match.
Two holes later, at the 562-yard par 5, Uribe chipped in from behind the green that drew a wild fist pump and 2-up advantage. On No. 8 she belted out a loud grunt, mumbling something indecipherable in Spanish, as the ball’s trajectory rose high. The ball stopped 5 feet from the flagstick. Uribe smiled.
Perhaps there is something to the power of osmosis.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.