Defending champ falls at Crooked Stick
CARMEL, IND.--The power of negative thinking couldn't propel__Kimberly Kim__ any farther at the 107th U.S. Women's Amateur Championship. The 15-year-old's bid at defending her title from a year ago ended when she faced the hottest player in the tournament, Amanda Blumenherst, during Saturday's semifinals at Crooked Stick GC, and watched the Duke standout make seven birdies en route to a 5-and-3 victory.
All week Kim was at her doubting best, playing, she said, by the philosophy of "expecting the worst and hoping for the best" as she tried to be the first to retain the Amateur title since__ Kelli Kuehne__ in 1995-96. Kim didn't want to see her opponents hit their shots because she claimed every time she watched they hit it close to the hole or rolled in a putt. "My confidence level is never that high," she said after Thursday's third round. "I never expect that much. Everybody is just as good as me. Competition wise I knew this tournament has like the best players already."
Kim says she has thought about hiring a sports psychologist to help her with her mindset but that they were too expensive, so instead she talks to her older sister, Christine. "She's like a negative person, too," Kim explained, breaking up the media center yet again.
Her comments notwithstanding, Kim has proved there's plenty of skill behind her success, not merely luck. You don't win 10 straight matches at the Women's Amateur because your opponents give them to you.
Even in defeat Kim played impressively. Four down on the 10th tee, she made four birdies on the next five holes. Problem was so did Blumenherst, who stuck her approach shot on three of them so close to the hole (even thought Kim not watching) that Kim conceded the birdie putts, nearly making an ace on the par-13th.
"Well, I can't believe she played that good, but she played good," Kim said. "If she plays that way tomorrow, that's going to be a good match."
Entering the tournament, there was some doubt about Blumenherst's chances, thanks to a history of troubles in match-play events. It doesn't matter what format you're playing, though, when you're routinely making birdie putts or knocking approach shots to gimmie range. From the second-round match Thursday morning to today, Blumenherst has made 22 birdies through 57 holes, pleasing the more than two dozen family and friends in attendance (before moving to Scottsdale in high school, Blumenherst lived in Fort Wayne, Ind., roughly two hours northeast).
"I've had such a successful college career that it would be great to do well in match play and really kind of put the icing on the cake, so to speak," Blumenherst said when asked about the importance of winning the oldest women's tournament in the country. "Just being able to show that I can play stroke play as well as match play and win such a prestigious amateur tournament."
To take home the Robert Cox Cup Sunday, Blumenherst will have to knock off Colombia native Maria Jose Uribe, a 17-year-old set to enroll this fall at UCLA, in the 36-hole final. The fiery Uribe beat Ha Na Jang, 2 and 1, closing out the match with a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, punctuated with a fist pump after yelling "vamos" at the ball as it broke three times before falling the cup.
"After I hit it, yeah," said Uribe when asked if she knew the putt was in the hole. "It was perfect."
Much like her performance the rest of the afternoon, when she made six birdies offset by two bogeys. Trailing only one hole the entire match, Uribe took the lead for good on the 10th with a birdie, then increased it to 2-up with a birdie on the par-5 15th.
"On the front nine I didn't make a lot of putts, though," Uribe said. "I missed some of them, but we both were playing good. Just at the end, I just started making putts, and that was all. Yeah, my game was on."
Uribe was a quarterfinalist in the 2005 Women's Amateur and had played in the past two U.S. Women's Opens. She has spent the past two weeks at Crooked Stick, playing several practice rounds with her coach/caddie Pedro Rossi and getting to know some of the maintenance staff who speak her native Spanish; roughly 20 were out in orange shirts cheering on Uribe.
Asked about the fact that she wears her emotions on her sleeve, Uribe didn't blink. "I think it's just the spirit that Latin people have," said Uribe, who according to future Bruin teammate Tiffany Joh, is an impressive salsa dancer. "We're really into things. It's like my personality."
And it should prove for an entertaining final match.
TODAY'S BIRDIES AND BOGEYS__
__Birdie:__From the 10th to the 13th holes, Blumenherst had four birdie putts that totaled seven feet.
Birdie: All four of the semifinalists were also participants at this summer's U.S. Women's Open.
__Bogey:Despite going par-birdie-birdie-birdie on the 10th through 13th, Kim dropped from 4 down to 5 down. When she hit her approach shot on the 14th to inches and won the hole with a birdie, her first win of the day, she turned to her caddie, Tom Cermack, and joked: "We won a hole. Oh my god."