Alternate Coble Endures 24-Hour Odyssey
Venture To Women's Amateur Includes Last-Second Plane Reservations, Clubs Not Arriving On Time
By David Shefter, USGA
Eugene, Ore. – Not even the passengers aboard the S.S. Minnow could top this odyssey.
A three-hour tour? Try a 24-hour adventure.
Gilligan and The Skipper have nothing on what Laura Coble endured just to get to Eugene Country Club on Monday for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Between making last-minute plane reservation and the airlines momentarily misplacing her clubs, Coble’s tale of being an alternate into the championship had more twists than the Tatsu roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in southern California.
It all started with a phone call from the USGA around 2:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday when Courtney Ellenbogen withdrew.
Once the 44-year-old accepted the spot, Coble, a member of the winning Georgia squad at the 2005 USGA Women's State Team Championship, morphed into full scramble mode. Along with her husband and a friend, the three frantically started calling various airlines. Coble, a 10-time Georgia State Player of the Year, five-time state amateur champion and two-time recipient of the Tommy Barnes Award for being the state's best amateur (male or female), even started the 135-minute drive from her home in Augusta, Ga., to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, knowing there were more available options than from her tiny hometown airport.
Forty-five minutes from her destination, she found a flight that would first take her to Las Vegas for a one-night layover. From there, she would catch a flight Monday at 6 a.m. to San Francisco, where a connecting flight would have her in Eugene at 10 a.m.
And that’s where the club issue arose. While she and her checked suitcase made the connection, her clubs didn’t.
This created another problem for the travel-weary Coble, who was working on two hours of sleep. She arrived in Eugene early enough for her 2:30 p.m. PDT starting time, but the next flight from San Francisco didn’t land until 2:30.
Phone calls were made to a local pro shop and some substitute clubs were found. So Coble decided to start the round with just a driver.
Under Rule 4-4, a player is entitled to have up to 14 clubs during a stipulated round. A player can start with as little as one club, which is what Coble did. During the stipulated round, a player may keep adding clubs up to the maximum amount allowed. Once the clubs are added, they cannot be replaced.
And Decision 6-4/5.3 states that an outside agency can carry such items as umbrellas, rain gear, sandwiches and, in this case, extra clubs. Coble simply added clubs as she needed them, using a 4-iron, 7-iron, 8-iron, 56-degree wedge and putter. Once her clubs and golf shoes did arrive on site – 6½ holes into her round – she added eight clubs and took out the driver and putter. She played the entire round sans her pitching wedge and 60-degree lob wedge.
“Some parts were fun and some were not so fun,” said Coble after finishing with an 11-over 83, the low score among the three last-second alternates who got into the field. Kati Scholten had an 84 and Canada’s Jessica Potter carded an 85. “[The fun part] was getting the phone call [and] getting to come out here and play and see some familiar faces. There are some good Georgia folks who are here officiating. Just getting to play the golf course is a treat.”
Coble didn’t go into the round completely cold turkey. She qualified six years ago for the 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Eugene Country Club and it didn’t take long for her memory to kick in. Her local caddie helped read the greens, but through changing clubs and shoes, her focus faded.
“It was hard to concentrate,” said Coble, who missed the match-play cut in 2002. “I didn’t have my best mentally.
“It was not real pretty. I hit the ball OK off the tee. I hit some good iron shots. I just had a lot of putts. My putting stroke was a bit shaky coming in here. I wasn’t the most confident with it.”
Her lone highlight came at the par-4 first hole, her 10th of the round, when she drained a 10-footer for birdie. But she missed a short par putt at No. 2 and three-putted from 5 feet at the third hole for a double-bogey 6.
The results were similar for Scholten and Potter. Like Coble, Scholten, 19, of Brookings, S.D., got into the field Sunday when Lauren Mielbrecht withdrew. She managed to get a flight that got her to Oregon Sunday night, but not in time to get in a practice round.
“I just had no idea about anything,” said Scholten. “But I had a great caddie so that helped a lot. This [first round] is pretty much my practice round, but tomorrow I am sure will go a lot better.”
As for Potter, the second alternate from the Portland, Ore., sectional, she made the six-hour drive to Eugene from her home in British Columbia just in case there was another last-second withdrawal. Sure enough, Kristen Hendrix withdrew Monday morning and Potter was in the field.
“At least [being here] got me in the field,” said Potter, who competed last week at the Canadian Amateur and will try to qualify next week for the upcoming Canadian Women’s Open. “It was a tough day. I can’t blame it on lack of sleep or no practice rounds, but I obviously hit a lot of bad shots out there and missed a lot of putts. It was a really terrible round unfortunately. Hopefully tomorrow I can put something together that is decent.”
At least there’s an 18-hole tour left.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. USGA media relations intern Kent Zakour contributed to this story.