Coble Takes 'Conventional' Route To 2009 U.S. Women's Amateur
By David Shefter, USGA
St. Louis – The voice mail from the USGA has yet to be erased. Neither has the memory. Laura Coble can laugh about it now, but it was one of the more bizarre scenarios in U.S. Women’s Amateur history.
“The plan was perfect,” said Coble, referring to her 2008 odyssey to Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, “except for the clubs.”
Those were the words of the 45-year-old Augusta, Ga., resident after enjoying a lunch inside the clubhouse at Old Warson Country Club, where she will be competing in the 109th U.S. Women’s Amateur, beginning today. But this year’s trip to the championship site was far less stressful or hectic.
Then again, few can match Coble’s 2008 tale.
That Sunday morning began with a workout and school-supply shopping with her teenage daughter, Katherine. While Coble was at a popular discount store, Caroline Jordan of the USGA phoned with a message. Do you want to play in the Women’s Amateur? A player withdrawal opened up a spot in the field and you are the next alternate on the allotment list.
Not one to pass up a golden opportunity, Coble immediately accepted and began driving toward Atlanta while friends fervently checked for available flights. Forty-five minutes from Hartsfield Airport, an itinerary was found. After flying to Las Vegas and spending the night, Coble continued to San Francisco and then to Eugene, arriving at 10 a.m., some 4½ hours before her scheduled starting time.
However, there was a small problem. Her clubs didn’t make the connection, but the airlines said the clubs would get to Eugene at 2:30, which happened to be Coble’s starting time. So a backup plan was needed. She consulted with two Georgia-based USGA officials who were on-site: Gene McClure and 1970 U.S. Women’s Amateur winner Martha Kirouac.
After thorough consultation, Coble decided to start the round with a borrowed set of clubs from the pro shop. But instead of using a full complement of 14 clubs – the maximum allowed under the Rules of Golf – she began with just one and added clubs as she needed them. She also began playing in tennis shoes since her golf shoes were in her golf bag.
“I had played in tennis shoes before,” recalled Coble, “but certainly not in a tournament and definitely not in a USGA tournament.”
Rule 4.4 states that a player can start a stipulated round with as little as one club and may add up to the maximum amount allowed. Once the clubs are added, they cannot be replaced unless damaged through the normal course of play. That’s exactly what Coble did.
Plus Decision 6-4/5.3 states that an outside agency can carry such items as umbrellas, rain gear, sandwiches or, 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 arrived – 6½ holes into the round – she added eight clubs and took out the borrowed driver and putter. She played the entire round, sans her pitching wedge and 60-degree lob wedge
Although Coble didn’t make the match-play cut, she doesn’t regret the decision. As bizarre and crazy as those 24 hours were, the chance to compete for a national championship was worth the hassle.
“I guess I am just crazy enough to think that I can still do this,” said Coble, who is competing in her fourth Women’s Amateur. “It’s fun. I feel like I still have the mental edge to be able to compete, and I still enjoy it.”
Having first qualified for the Women’s Amateur in 1985 at 21, Coble didn’t make it back again until 2005 when the championship came to Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course in Roswell, Ga. Coble, who took time away from competitive golf to raise her daughter, has enjoyed a golf renaissance.
A 10-time Georgia State Player of the Year, Coble has won her state match-play title seven times, the Georgia Women’s Amateur (stroke play) four times and a Georgia Women’s Open crown in 2004. She spent a few years as the head coach of the Augusta State University women’s golf team before stepping down in 2007. She underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in November of 2007 and was still recovering from the operation last summer when she went to the Women’s Amateur.
Now completely healed, Coble feels fit and strong. She has worked diligently with her physical therapist and fitness trainer to increase flexibility and strength. Her regimen includes walking, biking and the elliptical machine to build stamina and improve cardio.
Besides the match-play title, where she beat 15-year-old Mariah Stackhouse in 21 holes in the final, Coble finished fifth at the Georgia Women’s Amateur and 12th at the Georgia Women’s Open. At her Women’s Amateur qualifier in Lexington, N.C., on July 21, she posted a 2-under 69 at Sapona Country Club.
“I am hitting the ball longer than I ever have, thanks to the folks who have been helping me,” said Coble, who helped Georgia win the 2005 USGA Women’s State Team title. “I’m getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of water … and I’m trying to eat right. You have to do those things when you get older just to be even with [the younger kids]. You have to do your preparation before you get here and hope for the best.”
That preparation actually started by taking the car versus flying to Old Warson. She and recent University of Mississippi graduate Dori Carter of Valdosta, Ga., shared a ride. The two will be part of the three-person Georgia squad at next month’s USGA Women’s State Team in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Stackhouse.
Why? Outside of someone breaking into the vehicle, Coble guaranteed the clubs would arrive at the same she did.
“It’s such a relief to have my hands on them,” said Coble, who told the USGA’s Jordan this week that she has saved her message from last August. “It’s just priceless.”
And just maybe she’ll have a performance to remember as well.
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.