Women's Amateur Final Lives Up To Billing
By David Shefter, USGA
Carmel, Ind. – This is what USGA championship matches are supposed to be like.
Two competitors performing at optimum levels on the final day.
So often, after a grueling week that includes 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, followed by five intense-filled 18-hole matches leading up to the final, the play occasionally drops off. The players are emotionally and physically drained from the long days of competition.
But not on Sunday at Crooked Stick Golf Club. Amanda Blumenherst and Maria Jose Uribe provided the kind of theater that one should expect from the last two survivors at a U.S. Women’s Amateur. Outside of a couple of loose tee shots, the execution was phenomenal. The ball-striking was remarkable. Neither competitor enjoyed more than a 1-up advantage the entire day. The match went the full 36 holes, and only Blumenherst’s three-putt hiccup on the 35th green was the difference, as the 17-year-old Uribe became the first Colombian to claim a USGA title.
“They were both just good, really good,” said Bill Blumenherst, Amanda’s uncle and caddie for the week.
It was like watching one of those old-fashioned Western Athletic Conference football shootouts. The team with the ball last was going to win. In this case, Blumenherst just ran out of time. Had the match gone another 18 holes, it probably would have carried over to No. 18 again.
For the day, Uribe was the equivalent of seven under par (with usual match-play concessions) and Blumenherst was six under. Of the eight par-5 holes played, four were halved with birdies and one was won with an eagle (Uribe made a 3 on No. 11 in the morning 18).
You almost wanted to hand the Robert Cox Cup to both players. Each was deserving of that pretty trophy.
“Every match I’ve played before this one went so fast just because you’re like, all right, that’s good,” said Blumenherst, who never played beyond hole 15 in any of her four previous matches (she went 19 holes in her first-round win over Kristin Ingram). “I felt like we almost treated each hole like that was going to be the deciding hole because I knew it was going to be close.”
You would have thought one of the players might crack under the intense pressure of winning one of the most prestigious events in all of women’s amateur golf. Maybe Blumenherst’s aggressive birdie putt at No. 35 that raced 6 feet by the hole could be construed as faltering under the heat. Yes, she missed the come-backer for par, but she rebounded with a gorgeous approach to No. 36, only to have the firm green push the ball into the back fringe.
Uribe, however, demonstrated she has the goods to deliver under pressure, two-putting from 55 feet at the last hole to prevent Blumenherst from forcing extra holes.
“You always feel pressure even if you’re winning 4 up or 5 up,” said Uribe. “I like to play with pressure. I just feel at home, so it’s good. It’s better for me playing with pressure than without pressure.”
Perhaps some the work she has put in with her sports psychologists back in Colombia has paid dividends. It also didn’t hurt to have her swing coach, Pedro Rossi, serving as her caddie. Rossi has been carrying for Uribe all summer at the U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Girls’ Junior and here this week.
“He inspires me,” said Uribe. “He just knows what to say to me. He has kids back home and a family and work, but he just comes because he believes in me, so I really appreciate it.”
Blumenherst also had plenty of support this week. Coming back to Indiana, where her family has roots and where she spent part of her childhood, was special for her. Not only did she have to focus on golf this week, but there were family obligations off the course as well. She handled all of the distractions with aplomb. That’s why she’s a two-time college player of the year (Duke University) and was selected to play on the 2006 USA Curtis Cup and Women’s World Amateur teams.
Match play had not treated Blumenherst well coming into the week. She had never been past the third round in any previous USGA amateur competition. Blumenherst can now check that one off her list.
“I think this just gives me more confidence in my game,” said Blumenherst, who helped Duke win the NCAA Division I title the past two seasons and will be a junior at the Durham, N.C., school this fall. “[It’s] a whole week of solid golf, one round after another.
“You just really need to focus an entire week. I think it’s more mentally draining than it is physically draining because by the time you’ve played your ninth round, your focus is almost shot. You just want to go do something else.”
On Monday, Blumenherst will be in Ft. Wayne competing in the annual Blumie Open, a family affair that features some solid players. Uncle Bill has been a teaching pro since 1991, so there’s stiff competition.
Meanwhile, Uribe is headed back to Colombia on a 6 a.m. flight. She’s not quite sure what kind of reception she’ll receive upon arriving in Bucaramanga. When Angel Cabrera of Argentina won the U.S. Open in June, fans lined the streets of Cordoba to cheer the new champion.
“Just my parents, my family and friends,” said Uribe of what the welcoming party might contain. “But I don’t think the media and stuff like that. They don’t get it. Believe me, it’s Colombia.
“Argentinian people, they are so like into sports and they are really proud of it. But Colombia, I don’t think so, and I don’t live in the capital city. Maybe if I lived in Bogota, the media would be there. I don’t know what to expect. They have never had this before, so we’ll see.”
Then in three weeks, she’ll be attending classes at UCLA. Considering the women’s college golf rivalry between the Bruins and Duke, it’s probably not the last time Blumenherst and Uribe will meet up on a golf course.
And after Sunday’s thrilling final, they should have plenty to chat about.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com