Blumenherst Seeking The Final Piece
National Title Only Item Missing From Impressive Amateur Career
By David Shefter, USGA
Eugene, Ore. – The accomplishments of Amanda Blumenherst over the last four years would make any golfer envious. It’s a list too long for even David Letterman’s Top 10.
Here’s the Cliffs Notes version for the 21-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., native who is entering her senior year at Duke University:
But among the plethora of awards and accomplishments, there is one visible void. Blumenherst has never won an individual USGA or NCAA title. And with the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Eugene Country Club being her final USGA amateur competition, her meter is expiring on achieving that feat before she receives her diploma and turns pro next May.
A year ago at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the scenario could not have offered a better script. The championship was at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., an easy drive from Fort Wayne where the Blumenherst clan has deep rootes. Mom Amy, dad David, little sister Erica, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents lined the fairways all week in support of Amanda, who had broken free of her match-play demons and advanced to the championship match against 17-year-old Colombian Maria Jose Uribe.
For all her tournament successes, Blumenherst inexplicably struggled with the head-to-head format known as match play. She had never advanced beyond the third round in any of her previous six USGA amateur appearances (U.S. Girls’ Junior, U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links). In fact, she had been bounced in the first round of the 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur by Mari Chun and the second round of the 2007 WAPL by Sara Brown. She had also lost her only singles match at the ’06 Curtis Cup Match to Breanne Loucks of Wales, 5 and 4.
“I know when I was struggling I would use the it’s-not-fair factor,” said Blumenherst after Saturday’s practice round for the 2008 Women’s Amateur. “I would actually get down on myself … or frustrated with the format.
“[Match play] is hard. It’s a whole week of really good golf, which is different from stroke play. Stroke play you can maybe have an off day and come back and shoot a 65, which I’ve done. [Match play] is much different. You really have to play solid every single day. It’s tough.”
So Blumenherst entered the ’07 Women’s Amateur determined to change her fortunes. She took a different mental approach, pretending each day was a stroke-play competition. Her mindset was to play the course, not the opponent, which isn’t the normal thought process. Yet the philosophy worked. Using the fan-friendly gallery as a 15th club, Blumenherst maneuvered her way through the bracket, knocking off Duke teammate Jennie Lee in the quarterfinals, 5 and 4, and defending champion Kimberly Kim in the semifinals, 5 and 3.
The 36-hole final in the steamy central Indiana heat against Uribe featured some of the week’s finest golf. The two were never separated by more than one hole and they combined for 17 birdies, one eagle and just six bogeys (with concessions) in a match that went the distance. The difference came at the 35th hole when Blumenherst misjudged the speed of her 18-foot birdie putt, ramming it 6 feet past the hole. Her come-backer for par failed to drop, giving Uribe a 1-up lead, an advantage she would maintain through the final hole.
Blumenherst handled the disappointment with dignity, but the defeat still subconsciously lingers, especially on the eve of what will be her final Women’s Amateur appearance.
“I’m trying not to put too much pressure on it, but still I really want to do well and get the trophy,” said Blumenherst. “Last year I broke through whatever mental barrier I had and figured [match play] out.”
Added Lee, who has played with Blumenherst the last three years at Duke and has twice been a USA Curtis Cup teammate: “She’s got the game to do it. Sometimes you just have to get things to go your way.
“When I play with her, she hits out of anything. Give her a [bad] lie like stepping on [the ball] or running over it with a golf cart and she’ll hit out of it and get it on the green.”
Re-Charged And Focused
If anything, Blumenherst enters the Women’s Amateur rested and refreshed. She has not played a competitive event since making the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open in late June, choosing to spend time with her family at a rented lake house in Angola, Ind., visiting her boyfriend Nate Freiman in Massachusetts where he’s spending the summer playing first base for the first-place Orleans Cardinals in the Cape Cod Summer League or relaxing at home in Scottsdale.
While she did practice every day, Blumenherst also swam, road a Wave Runner and went tubing.
“I have been having fun,” she said. “It’s nice when you take a little bit of a break. Sometimes you just get tired of playing. It was great to have a month off and get ready for this tournament.”
Prior to the break, Blumenherst went immediately from the NCAAs in New Mexico to the Curtis Cup held at the historic Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland to the WAPL and U.S. Women’s Open in a six-week period. While Duke failed to three-peat, Blumenherst still managed to card a final-round 68 to share fifth place, four strokes behind winner Azahara Munoz. At the Curtis Cup, she posted a 3-1-1 record as the USA won its six consecutive Match (13-7) and the first ever waged on the Old Course.
But at the WAPL, Blumenherst was ousted in the first round by Michigan State’s Aimee Neff and although she made the cut at the Women’s Open, she finished T38 at 6-over 298, eight strokes off low-amateur honors that went to Uribe, and 15 behind winner Inbee Park.
Nevertheless, Blumenherst feels her state of mind and physical game are ready for a strong run this week.
“I’m hitting the ball very well,” said Blumenherst. “I need to work on my speed a little. These greens are much faster than Arizona’s right now. I have been there for about two weeks. They can’t keep the greens short [in the summer] or they will die.”
When Blumenherst scans the current landscape of professional golf she sees so many faces that she competed against as a junior. Her rivals included Paula Creamer, Julieta Granada, Inbee Park, Angela Park, Morgan Pressel and Jane Park. But Blumenherst remains the only player from that group still in college.
Blumenherst is an anomaly among today’s current climate. Few elite female players ever complete college or for that matter, even enroll. But turning pro early never entered her mind. With a 3.78 grade-point average, the history major has loved every second of her time on the Durham, N.C., campus, whether it’s been competing for national championships, attending basketball games at historic Cameron Indoor Stadium or just hanging out with friends. If anything, Blumenherst can’t believe the ride is almost ending.
“I have enjoyed every minute of it,” she said. “I really just fell in love with school and college [life]. I will definitely have no regrets no matter how much money I win [as a professional]. It’s so nice to have a degree to fall back on. Those four years, the memories I have accumulated will just never go away. It’s something I treasure forever.”
Winning the Women’s Amateur would complete the scrapbook.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.