SOMEWHERE BETWEEN COLUMBUS, OHIO AND LAGUARDIA AIRPORT—Is it OK to say I told you so? Yes, maybe I didn’t go out on a real long limb picking Duke to win the NCAA Women’s Championship, but I did pick the winner, which ought to count for something, shouldn’t it? (Never mind about my pick for the individual title … you’ll get them next time Jane Park, I can feel it.)
What the Blue Devils demonstrated during their four day run at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course wasn’t necessarily superior talent inside the ropes but rather superior talent in between their ears. There is no team with the mental tenacity of the squad from Durham, N.C. That’s not to say that they don’t have exceptional golfers; freshman Amanda Blumenherst wasn’t named national player of the year last night at the Division I Awards banquet for nothing (for other winners, click here). It’s just that when these players aren’t striking the ball well on a particular day, they have the fortitude to grind out a good score.
Bottom line: Duke’s fab five was the most relaxed team of any in the field this past week, guided beautifully by senior Liz Janangelo, the most laid back college golfer I can ever remember seeing. “It’s like we were just playing any old tournament,” said Duke sophomore Jennifer Pandolfi amidst all the celebrating yesterday, when Duke became the first repeat champion since 1998 with a 10-shot victory over USC.
It’s more than you can say for some top-ranked schools (sorry UCLA, but you know who I’m talking about). Without putting undo pressure on themselves, the Blue Devils took care of business, a testament to what Janangelo might have learned her freshman and sophomore years at nationals. It was then that an uptight Duke team, heavy favorites both years, were unable to close the deal. I don’t think you can give Janangelo enough credit in helping prepare this team for victory this week. College golf is going to miss her.
So what were my other impressions from nationals? They’re kind of varied and a little off beat, so bear with me.
• Standing next to the 18th green when Arkansas senior Amanda McCurdy holed the final putt of her college career, and then couldn’t face her teammates because she knew she would break down was as heart breaking for spectators to watch as it was for McCurdy to experience. This is a woman who could be the scrappiest player we’ve seen in college golf the last five years. Maybe the classiest too.
“It’s been a ride,” said the honorable mention All-American in between tears. “I know that I haven’t played my best golf yet but I’m going to fight every time I’m out there.”
McCurdy’s immediate plans are to hope to receive a phone call later this week from Martha Luigs, head of the selection committee for the U.S. Curtis Cup team. Captain Carol Semple Thompson spent time watching McCurdy this week and could use a player like her later this summer at Bandon Dunes. And after that, it's giving pro golf a try.
• Amanda Blumenherst incredible freshman season is capped with a national championship and national player of the year honors. I know she told me flat out that she’ll be in Durham, N.C., for four years, but you have to wonder if she repeats what she did this past season how long it really will be before she turns professional?
• She might not have been the USC player you thought would win the individual title, but Trojan sophomore Dewi-Claire Schreefel pulled out a mighty clutch performance down the stretch Friday to claim medalist honors. Of course the three birdies over the final five holes, which secured her 69 in the final round and two-under 286 total were huge, but the play that will go unheralded will be her up and down for par out of the greenside bunker on the par-4 15th. A great chip to three feet, and a never-off-line putt kept the momentum she had built the two previous holes. Once again, it’s not as much about your physical skills … all the players out there could execute the shot Schreefel pulled off. But how many could pull it off when everything was one the line?
• The Women’s Golf Committee was dealt a kind blow when they were able to get the final round of the championship done Friday afternoon despite a 56-minute rain delay. More to the point, it got lucky. I understand that the championship has Saturday as a extra day in case rain should interrupt the tournament, but they should have at least moved tee times up an hour on Friday when the committee knew that weather might affect the championship. Had one more storm come through, chances are we would have all been back this morning to finish just a couple hours, an outcome nobody would have been happy with.