Notebook: Winning Back-To-Back USGA Titles No Easy Task
By David Shefter, USGA
Carmel, Ind. – Winning one USGA amateur championship is not easy. Think about it. You have to not only survive 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying just to get into the 64-player draw, but you also must win six consecutive matches under the most intense of conditions..
Sure, skill and consistency are key components of the equation. So is a little luck. But it also takes the right temperament and demeanor to deal with pressure and nerves.
Now try accomplishing the feat in consecutive years. At the U.S. Women’s Amateur, it’s only been done 11 times in the 112-year history of the event. But since 1980, only three players have successfully defended, the last coming in 1995-96 by Kelli Kuehne.
Fifteen-year-old Kimberly Kim is on the verge of joining this elite fraternity. Kim outlasted 17-year-old Jennifer Song of Korea in 21 holes to reach the semifinals of the 2007 Women’s Amateur at Crooked Stick Golf Club. She is now 10-0 in match play at this championship. In Thursday's second round, Kim got one of those aforementions lucky breaks when Rikako Morita hit her tee shot at the par-4 18th hole in the water. Morita was dormie one headed to the final hole and eventually lost 18, then lost the match two holes later.
“I think age is kind of irrelevant,” said Kuehne, who is working as an on-course reporter this week for The Golf Channel. “It goes with experience. You have to play well. If you can get yourself in position, then the best player is going to win. That’s the way it goes.”
Kuehne actually won USGA titles in three consecutive years, starting with the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1994. She followed it up with the back-to-back Women’s Amateur championships. After winning her first in 1995, Kuehne actually arrived at Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln, Neb., with the confidence that nobody was going to take the trophy from her.
“At hindsight, now that I’m 30, it was very arrogant,” said Kuehne of her mindset. “I didn’t even consider anyone else winning. I liked thinking that way, but I didn’t know any better.”
Kim doesn’t outwardly show that kind of confidence. When she holed her winning birdie putt Friday to beat Song, her body language illustrated more exasperation than elation.
“I don’t think people expected me to do as well [this year],” said Kim. “I haven’t really put that much pressure on myself.
“It’s hard, it’s stressful. I think the hardest part is staying positive even when you’re down.”
Should Kim pull off a second consecutive Women’s Amateur title, she would be the youngest ever to do so. Beatrix Hoyt was 16 when she won her first of three straight in 1896. Kuehne was 19 when she won her second. Kay Cockerill, who is also working as an on-course reporter for The Golf Channel, won her second straight title at 22.
“Being that she’s only 15 now, she doesn’t quite have the maturity to maybe understand and analyze things, and maybe that helps in some ways,” said Cockerill. “When I was winning the [Women’s] Amateur, it was juniors and seniors in college that were in the quarterfinals and semis and the final. Now you are seeing these 12- and 14-year-olds who have no fear and their game plan is to go at the flagstick. It’s sort of a whole different world we are seeing with these guys.”
Kuehne admitted having goose bumps when she saw the Robert Cox Cup on Friday. It has been awhile since she had seen the beautiful trophy that goes to the Women’s Amateur champion.
“I was riding by in my cart and I saw it,” said Kuehne. “My mouth started watering.
“It’s the most coveted prize and the best-looking trophy in golf. If you get to have that trophy on your table for a year, it’s a blessing; for two years it’s a rarity.”
Cockerill saw it while in Hawaii for a fund-raiser that involved the Hawaii Junior Golf Association.
“When you look at it, what a cool thing,” said Cockerill, who won her first title in 1985 20 minutes from her hometown at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif. “Wow, my name is on that, too.”
Seeking First U.S. Win
Maria Uribe of Colombia has accomplished a lot in South America. The 17-year-old, who will be a freshman at UCLA next month, has won plenty of titles on that continent. But she came to the U.S. three years ago to seek out better competition. While she has yet to get a victory, her record in USGA competitions is quite good. She was a quarterfinalist in her first Women’s Amateur in 2005, then reached the round of 16 last year. She also advanced to the round of 16 at last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she fell in 19 holes to future UCLA teammate Stephanie Kono.
“It’s better experience to be here and not win than to be in Colombia winning,” said Uribe, who competed for her country at the 2006 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa. “That’s what I think.”
Uribe is two victories away from getting that elusive first victory in the U.S. She beat 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Mina Harigae, 5 and 4, in the quarterfinals to set up a semifinal match with 15-year-old Ha Na Jang of Korea on Saturday.
Kim thought about working with a sports psychologist after last year’s win at the Women’s Amateur. But then she found out what it would cost and had second thoughts.
“They’re so expensive,” said Kim, drawing laughter from the assembled media. “They charge you like $1,000 for 10 sessions, and even when you’re talking on the phone, they’re charging you. So I was like, ‘No thank you.’ It’s just way too much.”
So then Kim was asked which family member is in charge of giving her pre-match pep talks.
“I think my [older] sister is,” added Kim. “She’s like a negative person.”
Then someone asked her if Christine is more like her. “No, when she caddies for me or something, and if I lose, she’ll be like, ‘What did you expect? It’s not like you’ll win everything. You’ll lose and that’s bad,’ ” said Kimberly. “I guess I take that in a good way because she’s right, I can’t win everything. So when I talk to her, it’s kind of good for me because I know that she’s supporting me. But even when I do poorly, it’s not like my family is upset.”
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.