Monday, July 26, 2010

2010 USGA Girl's Junior

Can I just say how WONDERFUL it is to be back in cool SF where it's currently 62 degrees, some 36 degrees cooler than it was last week in hot, humid, oppressive Pinehurst, NC! I was there watching the 62nd US Girl's Jr. Golf Championship, one of 13 National Championships the USGA conducts each year. Winning a match play championship is a true endurance test. After 36 holes of stroke play, 64 players advance to match play. One must make it through five 18 hole matches before making to the 36 hole final. Of course, some matches end early, but others go to extra holes like the Victoria Tanco vs Kristen Park round of 16 match that went 24 holes. Tanco won that match and immediately headed right back out to face Ally McDonald in the afternoon, only to lose in 19 holes! Remember, as I mentioned earlier temperatures were in the 98-99 degree range with the heat index well over 100. The local news was warning people to avoid outside activities! When I think back to my winning 2 Women's Amateur titles, it's no wonder I accomplished those feats in the cool climates of Santa Cruz, CA and Barrington, RI. I don't know how those young girls played as well as they did last week.

The two juniors that came to Saturday's finals arrived via two very different paths. Doris Chen, 17, was born in NYC, grew up in Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) but has spent the last 3 + years in Florida at the IMG Leadbetter Academy and attending the Pendleton School there. She is under the tutelage of David Whelan, the Academy's director of golf, who also happens to coach current Women's US Open Champion Paula Creamer. Katelyn Dambaugh, 15, is from Goose Creek, SC a small suburb north of Charleston. Just saying Goose Creek makes you laugh and conjure up an image of a typical small southern town. Katelyn is a natural athlete who excels at many sports including basketball, softball and soccer. It's only been in the last couple of years that she has focused more on the game of golf.

Doris is stoic. She demonstrates no emotion during the course of play. Her facial features at times appear catatonic. Some might dub her "dull Doris". Her outward demeanor of course is a response to conceal nerves and unsureness on the inside. Actually, Doris is quite funny and much different once you get her away from golf and competition, according to David Whelan. In fact, we saw some of her personality as she walked to the 34th hole on Saturday, goofing around with her caddy Charlie MacInnes, calling him a polar bear. Doris also opened up in her interview with Steve Burkowski saying that she most looked forward to the next USGA event because of all the ice cream they provide on site. She is determined and focused. That, combined with her cool exterior, enabled her to keep plugging along and eventually wear down her competitor in the humid southeast.

Katelyn is all energy, enthusiasm, strength and personality strutting down the fairway. Katelyn
is the daughter of Cindy and Eric Dambaugh. She has an older sister Brooke who is a cheerleader. Katelyn got her athletic talents from her mom who was a very competitive softball player. Katelyn is naturally right handed, but swings the bat and the golf club from the left side. During the last 4 years, she's been coached by Koll Farman who teaches at Coosaw Creek CC. Katelyn doesn't play AJGA events and this was her first USGA Championship. Mostly, she plays tournaments on the South Carolina Junior Golf Association schedule. Last year, she finished second to Katie Higgins in the Beth Daniel Azalea Junior for one of her best finishes. Katelyn still plays HS basketball as a shooting guard who specializes in 3 pointers. Her personal best is 7 three pointers in one game! Katelyn has a great golf swing and as she gets more experience she'll keep improving and hopefully one day will reach her goal of playing for the Duke Women's Golf team. Besides being a big Duke fan, she's got Bieber Fever. Yes, she's in love with Justin Bieber and is going to see him in Charlotte on August 8, coincidentally right before the Women's US Amateur at Charlotte CC, for which she is now exempt!

I thought the different demeanor and games that these two teenage players brought to the US Girls Jr at CCNC was fabulous. Either junior could have won the championship. It was a slug fest with changes in lead happening 4 times and neither player ever going more than 2 up at any point. It was an even, well played match. Katelyn came into the championship just hoping to make match play and who had no expectations. She has to be delighted with the way she played and how she opened a nation's eyes to her talent. For Doris, who lost in last year's semi-finals, this has to be a sweet end to her USGA junior career. She is verbally committed to play golf at USC (Southern Cal) in 2011 but first we'll see if she can become the only player to win the US Girl's Junior and Women's Amateur in the same year. A tall order, but one I'm looking forward to watching in two weeks.

Monday Thoughts

Ahhh.....I love, love, love the first Monday morning at home after a long road trip. I lounge in bed as long as I can, watching the news, surfing the internet, reading the Chronicle while sipping green tea. I purposely don't plan much for the day so that I can piddle around the house and just enjoy being home. Usually one of my cats is laying next to me, purring that loud amazing song only cats can. Hmm, should I get up and eat, or maybe I'll just remain here and look back on the week's golf highlights:

-Because I was there, my main thoughts are of the US Girls Junior Championship at Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst. Surviving 36 holes of stroke play and 5 rounds of matches, Doris Chen and Katelyn Dambaugh were troopers playing each other in a 36 hole final. They did all this, mind you, in 99 degree humid, oppressive heat! No wonder they were semi catatonic at the end. Doris prevailed down the last 9 holes w/ birdies on two of their last 3 holes, winning 3 &2 . Doris is a stoic, unemotional (at least outwardly), consistent, straight hitting putting machine. Her consistency outdid Katelyn's naturally athletic, long hitting, emotional game. Each were very different in their approach to the game and their journey to this Championship. In the end we were treated to a wonderful match and a glimpse of the future talent of this game.

Two other girls made me look twice--Stephanie Liu who just turned 13 and stands nearly 6 feet tall is going to be a force in the near future. She has a beautiful swing, strength and a maturity that belies her age. She and her 2 brothers are Chinese/Canadian Americans. What?? A very interesting mixed race amazing talent. Look for Stephanie. The other player is Megan Khang who is all of 12 years old from Massachusetts. She not only made match play, but won her first match and took her second opponent, Cali Hipp, to extra holes after birdieing the last 3 holes in a row. She is articulate, cute as a button and just out to try and play her best! Love it!

-Congratulations to Jiyai Shin for winning the Evian Masters. Her nickname, appropriately, is chalk line (always hits the dead center of the fairway) and more importantly Final Round Queen! Jiyai played a brilliant back nine (-2) and took the Evian away from Morgan Pressel who shot +1 on the second nine. Huge congrats to Lexi Thompson who tied for second in her 3rd event as a pro and took home $242,711. Nice chunk of change and a statement to all that she appears to be the real deal!

-Way to go DJ Brigman in winning the Nationwide's event at the venerable Ohio State Univ Scarlett Course shooting a stellar 64 to win by one. This win takes DJ from #47 on the money list to #6 and basically assures him of getting his PGA Tour card for 2011.

-Langer wins British Senior. Great player, but it doesn't move me at all. Would liked to have seen fellow Bruin and Ryder Cup cap't Corey get the win!

-Pettersson's win was amazing considering he barely made the cut, then shot 60 on Saturday to put him in position to get it done on Sunday. Now there's a good lesson to grind all day Friday b/c you don't know what may transpire on the weekend.

Well, I suppose I'll get my butt out of bed and do a little laundry and put away the suitcase for two weeks. Now, that is music to my ears!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pink Panther tames Oakmont

2010 Women's US Open Champion, Paula Creamer, efficiently worked her way around storied Oakmont shooting 72-70-70-69 for a 4 day total of 281 (-3). I don't know what is more amazing-the fact that she won by 3, was the only player under par, or that she won her first major just over 3 months after major hand surgery. I had no doubt that Paula would one day win a major....I just didn't think it would be right now! Oakmont was a bear and she handled it beautifully.

One of the keys to her successful championship Sunday started early in the morning when Paula stuck a hybrid to within 6 feet and birdied the 18th hole to finish round. Finishing the round with a birdie at one of the most challenging holes on the course, which gave up only 5 birds in round 3, was crucial to ensure a positive outlook heading to the final round.

Paula's biggest downfall in the past had been lack of patience at majors and putting together 4 good rounds. This year, she displayed complete mental strength and control and stayed committed to her pre-planned strategy of how to play the course. The words of advice she received from the great Arnold Palmer "Stay away from 3 putts and keep your head down" helped her finish strongly and hoist the trophy at the end of the day.

The look on Paula's face when she holed out and won was priceless. You could see the elation, relief, excitement and surprise all in one moment. Her performance was a joy to watch. Paula's positive influence was made clear with her words to the young girls in the audience as she asked them to follow their dreams and let them know they too could be standing on the 18th green one day holding the US Open trophy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Women's Open Day 1

Whew! I have a headache and I'm exhausted and I didn't even play 18 today! It was as hot, muggy and still a day that I've experienced in quite some time. Let's take a moment to honor the players today that survived Oakmont in extremely exasperating conditions. Just try and have the patience and focus to get around that track in 75 or less! 7 players shot even par or less today, with Brittany Lang leading the way at -2. Remember back in 07 when the men played the Open here, there were only 8 sub par rounds in the 437 played throughout the week. So far, the women have 5!

Big surprise of the day was Kelli Shean! She was the first to post a sub par round of 70 and held the lead for about 3 hours. She is a 22 year old from Cape Town, South Africa who will be a senior at Arkansas. She's the number one player on their team and won her first collegiate tournament this last season. Kelli just took up the game 7 years ago at age 15 and look how far she's come. She played with poise and assurance and was completely charming! Not to mention that she is hearing impaired which has been a hurdle I'm sure.

It will be interesting to see how the players adjust and play the course tomorrow. My bet is the course will still come out on top....the stroke average today was 6 over par (77) when I left the course. Low 60 and ties will make the cut or anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Could be a large cut!


Mallon Memories

As I look back on this first round of the Women's Open, my thoughts are with my good friend Meg Mallon. It's strange to think that she isn't here this week, after all, she's been a solid fixture at the Women's Open for the last 23 years. Meg has a special relationship with this Championship, winning it twice. The first time Meg won was in 1991, her breakout year on the LPGA when she won both the LPGA Championship (Bethesda CC) and the Open (Colonial) within a three week period. Those were two big wins in a 4 tournament winning season. Meg played in a total of 23 US Open's and had 8 top 10's, including a 4th place finish here at Oakmont CC back in 1992.

Meg's not here because she has decided to step quietly away from LPGA tournament golf. After several years struggling with injuries and personal issues, including the death of her father, sickness of her beloved mother and most recently the passing of her wonderful sister Tricia, Meg gave her career one more attempt. While physically she felt solid, she discovered she lacked that internal drive to get the ball into the hole as efficiently as possible. If your heart isn't in it 100%, it's time to move onward. A great champion like Meg can't just walk the fairways going through the motions.

I applaud Meg's decision to step away. So many people stay on the eternal treadmill, following the same path out of a sense of duty or because it's what they've always done. It takes courage and honesty to look at oneself and change the way your living your life, even if it's "comfortable". I will miss seeing Meg's smiling face and the classy way she played this game and I know a lot of players feel the same way. Good news for me is that Meg has been a longtime friend of mine, starting in 1987 when we played a round of qualifying school together.
I'll get to enjoy Meg the wonderful person for many years to come. If any of you are wondering, Meg is even more fabulous to be around off the golf course than on.