Cavalier Attitude Working Well For Virginia's Neuhauser
By Stuart Hall
Eugene, Ore. — Whitney Neuhauser is making up for lost time.
Amid a U.S. Women’s Amateur field of players who picked up a golf club about the time they were potty trained, Neuhauser, 20, of Barboursville, Va., practically stumbled onto the game at her grandmother’s house when she was nearly a teen.
“We found this old set of clubs in her attic, and one day my cousin and my grandmother and I went out to this course where you paid $2 and could play all day,” said Neuhauser, a junior at the University of Virginia. “The greens were made out of sand and there were no fairways. And we just had a great time doing it.”
Good enough to take up the game on a regular basis. On Thursday, Neuhauser, after three previous failed attempts to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, finds herself in the round of 16, having comfortably defeated Lucy Nunn of Lawton, Okla., 5 and 4. Neuhauser now faces Stephanie Kono of Honolulu, Hawaii, on Thursday afternoon at Eugene Country Club for a spot in the quarterfinals.
“I played well, but I sort of felt bad because Lucy was having trouble with her putter, and obviously she wasn’t playing as well as she wanted to,” said Neuhauser said. “I’m happy to get this one over early, though, because it’s going to be a long day.”
Neuhauser, who writes “Gran” on her golf shoes in honor of her grandmother, Jean Abbott, who passed away in November, is hopeful the long week continues through Sunday’s 36-hole championship match.
“I feel so comfortable this week, it’s almost scary,” said Neuhauser, who is now exempt into the 2009 Women’s Amateur by virtue of winning two matches. “I’m really not nervous and I came in playing well, and I talked to my swing coach, Kandi Comer, and because I was hitting it well and putting it well, she just told me to believe in what I was doing, so I have. I really believe I can win this thing. I’m not intimidated by anybody.
“My goal coming into this week was to reach the round of 16, so I’ve accomplished that and now I’m just going to see how far I can ride this wave.”
Neuhauser, who has her mother Susan carrying her bag, shot 2-under 142 and tied for fourth in stroke play. She then eliminated 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Kristen Park of Buena Park, Calif., in Wednesday’s first round, 3 and 2.
“I had a much better spring than the fall,” said Neuhauser, who played in seven events for the Cavaliers this past season with a seventh-place finish being her best showing. “So I had a little bit of momentum going into the summer and I’ve played well all summer. Finished fifth at the Eastern [Amateur] and then made match play at the [Women’s] Western Amateur and North and South [Women’s Amateur], so it’s been a good summer.”
Given the amount of time the foreign affairs major spends on her game, she should be having some success. The alternative to playing is driving a manual shift 747 John Deere tractor for her father, Myron, who manages a 1,200-acre farm just north of their home.
“He’s out there 24/7 and whenever I’m not on the golf course, I’m up there helping him on the farm,” said Neuhauser. “I’ve only crashed into one thing and dropped a couple of bales of hay. So that’s not too bad.
“There are times when I’ll say, ‘Sorry dad, I’ve got to go practice.’ But he understands and is very supportive. I’m sure he’s following my matches on his Blackberry.”
In Neuhauser’s first three attempts to qualify for this championship, she missed out by a stroke each time, the third time bringing her to tears.
“I was like ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” said Neuhasuer, who qualified for the U.S. Girls Junior in 2004 and 2005, and lost in the first round of match play both times. “So I went up to New Jersey to qualify this time and said I’m just going to go out and win this thing so I don’t have to worry about getting in. So I did.”
That same mindset may just produce a similar result this week.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.