Blumenherst One Win Away From Women's Amateur Redemption
By David Shefter, USGA
Eugene, Ore. – Few golfers in USGA championships get the chance at redemption.
The fickle nature of the format and the sheer grind of winning so many consecutive matches make the process so difficult to repeat. Especially after losing the final the previous year.
Not that it hasn’t been done. Four years ago, at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa., Jane Park accomplished the feat, beating Amanda McCurdy a year after falling to Virada Nirapathpongporn in the 2003 final across the state at Philadelphia C.C. in Gladwyne.
But in the 107 previous playings of arguably the most prestigious championship in women’s amateur golf, only five golfers have lost in the title match one year and come back the next to claim the Robert Cox Cup.
Amanda Blumenherst is vying to become the sixth. The 21-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., who has accomplished virtually everything in her remarkable amateur career – two USA Curtis Cups, low amateur at U.S. Women’s Open, one USA Women’s World Amateur Team selection, three-time college player of the year and two-time NCAA team titlist at Duke University – has the chance to add one final nugget to the résumé.
A year after losing a heartbreaking 1-down decision to Maria Jose Uribe of Colombia at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., Blumenherst finds herself back in familiar territory: Sunday’s 36-hole championship match against 20-year-old Spaniard Azahara Munoz, the reigning NCAA Division I women’s individual champion.
“This would definitely be the cherry on top,” said Blumenherst after Saturday’s tough 3-and-2 victory over 15-year-old Erynne Lee of Silverdale, Wash. “I’m proud of myself for getting to the finals two years in a row. But I’ve had such a great amateur career that no matter what happens tomorrow I’m not going to see myself as a failure in amateur golf because of the final round of the U.S. Am.”
The been-there-done-that factor is certainly working in Blumenherst’s favor. While Munoz has succeeded in college – she defeated two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Tiffany Joh in a playoff for the NCAA title in May – and on the international level competing for Spain, she has never been through the grind of a 36-hole championship match. This is truly a marathon over a sprint. And while the players endured two 18-hole matches on Thursday, the pressure and intensity of one 36-hole match can take a physical and mental toll.
Even Blumenherst, who went through the process in 2007, had to remind herself Saturday that the final is 36 holes.
“It’s so important to stay patient,” said Blumenherst, who is entering her senior year at Duke and competing in her final Women’s Amateur. “I think it’s easy to get frustrated or worried. But 36 holes is a lot of golf and really anything can happen.”
A year ago, Blumenherst had virtually everything on her side. Outside of the Crooked Stick maintenance crew, almost the entire gallery was rooting for her. Friends and family came down from Ft. Wayne, Ind. She stayed with her grandparents. The course was familiar. And outside of one minor mistake at the 35th hole, her game was sharp. The miscue was the difference between etching her name on the trophy and getting a silver medal.
Blumenherst has played similar golf this week. A tight first-round match against Lizette Salas only seemed to toughen her up for the next four. She went a stretch of 50 holes either being all square or leading. Her first deficit since Wednesday’s opener with Salas came when Lee took the third hole in Saturday’s match. She would win only one more hole the rest of the day – the par-5 sixth with a 20-footer from the fringe. And after a clutch winning 8-foot downhill par putt on nine, Blumenherst went into cruise control, hitting seven consecutive greens with two birdies at 10 and 16, the latter of which closed out the match.
Sunday’s final likely will be different for many reasons. Her opponent is a much more grizzled veteran. Munoz is someone Blumenherst knows quite well from the college circuit and vice versa.
“I really like Azahara and we have a good time when we play together ,” said Blumenherst, “so it will be a fun round tomorrow.”
Just don’t expect a lot of chatter. Cheery and gregarious off the course, Blumenherst has tunnel-vision on it, especially in match play. The game face will be on from the first tee at 7:30 a.m.
“It’s nothing personal,” she said. “When I’m carrying my own bag [in college events] it’s a little bit different.”
One thing that will be unique is two college players in the final. That hasn’t happened since 2002 when Becky Lucidi of the University of Southern California defeated Furman’s Brandi Jackson. The last college player to take the title was former Duke star Virada Nirapathpongporn, who earlier that summer lost in the 36-hole final of the WAPL to 13-year-old Michelle Wie.
Redemption worked its magic back then.
Blumenherst hopes the same thing happens again on Sunday.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.