Notebook: Curtain Closes On WAPL


The USGA used commemorative flags for this week's final U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)
By David Shefter, USGA
July 19, 2014

DUPONT, Wash. – There wasn’t a bugler playing Taps on the first tee. Public eulogies weren’t spoken. Maintenance workers didn’t dig a hole by the practice area and lower a casket 6 feet into the ground. A headstone wasn’t engraved.

None of that occurred on a crisp, overcast day at The Home Course.

The record will show that Fumie (Alice) Jo, 15, of The People’s Republic of China defeated stroke-play medalist Eun Jeong Seong, 14, of Korea, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final of the 38th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.

But this was more than one match. It was a closing act. One last go-around for a championship that has meant so much to so many people, whether they were competitors, volunteer Rules officials or the wonderful staff at the host venues.

The WAPL was officially retired on Saturday. It won’t collect a pension or a 401k, but there are plenty of dividends. All 33 champions – five won the event twice – treasured their titles. Some point to this event as the pinnacle of their golf career, others as a steppingstone to further greatness. Many just played because it was a national championship for public-course golfers.

The WAPL was where the nation first heard about Michelle Wie and Yani Tseng before they earned a combined six major championships to date, the former claiming last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Others such as Pearl Sinn-Bonnani, Candie Kung, Jill McGill and Danielle Ammaccapane earned LPGA Tour victories. Sinn-Bonnani became the first female to win multiple USGA championships, taking the WAPL and U.S. Women’s  Amateur in 1988.

WAPL champions Tiffany Joh, Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song, Brianna Do and Emily Tubert are still seeking that first breakthrough LPGA Tour win.

Many are now college coaches: Jo Jo Robertson at Texas Tech, Annie Thurman Young at Colorado State, Nancy Taylor Capps at Queens College and Lori Castillo at the University of Hawaii.

There are stay at-home moms (Heather Graff Zakhar and Amy Spooner-Johnston) and single working moms (Jody Niemann). Cathy Cartwright Tumbleson is a mother and elementary-school teacher. Mary Enright, Kelly Fuiks Leadbetter and Connie Masterson teach others how to play better golf. Others such as Kelli Antolock  no longer compete, even on an amateur level.

And no one should forget the late Heather Farr, who claimed the 1984 WAPL before sadly succumbing to breast cancer in 1993 at 28. Her sister, Missy, was the 2001 WAPL runner-up.

All WAPL champions share a common bond and their legacy will be forever be etched on the Robert F. Dwyer Trophy, and on the walls in the Hall of Champions at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.

As John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of Rules and Competitions, said at the WAPL Players’ Dinner on July 14, “we want to celebrate” the WAPL and the role it has played in the history of the game.

Because this was the WAPL’s swan song, many committee members savored the week as a chance to spend more time together. Reunions are likely in the future, but collectively as a group, this was their last championship together. Some will transition to other USGA committees, but a few have chosen to retire from USGA service.

With extra volunteers at her disposal, Teresa Belmont, the director of the WAPL, split up the championship-match assignments. Sue Ross (first nine) and Ellen O’Hara (second nine) refereed the morning 18, with Mary Ann Cronin (first nine) and Donna Sauve (second nine) taking over for the afternoon round.

Ann Soderman, Cissy LeGear, Maggie Bowgren, Kathy Heriford and Becky Rountree were the observers, with Sharon Schultze, Sara Wold and Randy Glassman handling the starting duties, the former two sharing the morning round. Forward observers included Una Alexandrovic, Ron Nelson, Jean Gamerl, Jamie Berge, Angela Stewart, Deb Long, Nancy Trimarco and Margaret Smith.

Pam Murray, a member of the USGA Women’s Committee and chairman of the WAPL Championship Committee, got choked up at the prize ceremony as she turned toward her committee members dressed in their blue blazers, thanking them for their yeoman’s service to the game and the WAPL. She said some had tears in the eyes as they walked the fairways for the last time at a WAPL.

Eight members of the committee have earned the Ike Grainger Award for 25 years of volunteer service to the USGA.

“It’s just emotional,” said Murray, of Dallas, who joined the WAPL committee in 2007. “That was kind of special to come back as chairman to a committee you’ve been on. It’s still sad to see anything come to an end.”

After the prize ceremony, the remaining committee members gathered for a photo with Jo. Time to record one last memory, one last snapshot to file away in a photo album.

The WAPL is gone, but never forgotten.

I’m Going To … Universal Studios

Fumie (Alice) Jo was supposed to tour Universal Studios in Los Angeles on Friday with a group of Chinese golfers who are also in the U.S. for the summer, but when she advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, the trip was postponed.

Fortunately, the group, which is part of a special camp sponsored by Yani Tseng, said if she made the 36-hole final, they would go again before departing for home.

“Yeah, I'm going with a lot of people, so we'll just have fun, and [go on] roller-coaster rides, that would be good,” said Jo.

Before leaving Washington, however, Jo said she was headed for a local water park.

“We played 36 holes almost every day this week,” said Jo. “I'm so tired. I think my mom is almost near collapsing or something. When she goes up those hills, she's panting so hard.  I'm really glad that she could finish 36 holes today.”

From Courts To The Course

U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Champion Fumie (Alice) Jo used to tag along with her parents when they played tennis, but one day in China it was raining too hard to play, so her father asked if she wanted to come to a local driving range. Jo accepted the offer and started hitting balls without any previous formal instruction. A pro at the range saw natural talent and asked if she was interested in lessons.

“I actually hit the ball really good on the first few shots,” she said, “and I was like, yeah, because I think it's pretty fun. So I started playing golf like that.

“And after about three months in China, I won this tournament in China. I was really small, like 8 years old, and my parents thought I had the potential to play better, so they let me play.”

Asked if her idol was Shanshan Feng, who became the first Chinese golfer to win a major at the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship, Jo said, no, it was Tseng. She also recently played in an American Junior Golf Association event near San Diego bearing her name.

“I actually went to her camp in [Chinese Taipei] … and we spent time with her for one week and she taught me a lot,” said Jo, who was reminded that Tseng’s name is also on the WAPL trophy. “I really like her.”

Odds and Ends

At the conclusion of the championship match, Jo was greeted by Kai Chang, the coach of the Yani Tseng Camp. Chang flew up from Los Angeles Friday night and surprised Jo after the match…Katie Lee, of Silverdale, Wash., who advanced to the round of 32 earlier this week, was the assistant standard bearer for the afternoon 18 of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links final. Good friend and fellow Central Kitsap High graduate Leslie Guzman was the standard bearer … It was an exciting week for Kathleen Mays, of University Place, Wash. She housed Jo and her mother for the week. Ironically, her middle name is Jo. When Jo won the match on No. 16, Mays excitedly said, “We’re going to have a great dinner tonight.”… The WAPL now has had a Jo Jo (Robertson), a Joh (Tiffany) and a Jo (Alice) win the championship. Robertson won in 1995 and ’97, while Joh took the 2006 and 2008 titles … Two WAPL competitors were among the gallery for the final: 2012 semifinalist Alice Jeong, who missed the match-play cut, and Alice Chen, who ousted 11-year-old Lucy Li in the round of 64 before losing to good friend and fellow New Jersey resident Cindy Ha in the round of 32.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

 

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