Notre Dame, Ind. – If the semifinalists in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship seem a little wide-eyed, it’s because three of them are virtually unknown beyond their hometowns.
Sara Grantham of Wilsonville, Ala.; Emily Tubert of Burbank, Calif.; Ellen Mueller of Bartlesville, Okla.; and Lisa McCloskey of Houston outlasted more celebrated opponents to win tight quarterfinal matches on Friday at the 6,092-yard, par 71 Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame.
Grantham eliminated the last USA Curtis Cup player in the field, Cydney Clanton of Concord, N.C., 1 up. Tubert, who remarkably has been playing golf for only five years, defeated Victoria Sungmin Park of Irvine, Calif., on the 19th hole.
Mueller ousted the championship’s second seed, Martina Gavier of Argentina, 2 and 1, and McCloskey stopped Brianna Do of Vietnam, 1 up.
Tubert and Park generated fireworks on the back nine. Beginning at the 13th hole, they made five birdies. Park took a 1-up lead with a birdie at the 15th and both players birdied the par-5 17th hole. Tubert’s par on the 18th hole squared the match. On the par-4 first hole, the 19th of the match, Tubert’s second shot found the green while Park’s approach missed. When Park couldn’t get her ball up and down and bogeyed, Tubert two-putted for a par to win.
The victory amazed Tubert. I can’t believe I won, Tubert said. This is only my second national championship. I played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior four years ago and I’d only been playing a year. Just to be there was so overwhelming. I played with (eventual runner-up) Vicky Hurst and almost killed her when I shanked a shot on the 10th hole.
Tubert turned 18 last month and will be a freshman at the University of Arkansas this fall. She graduated from John Burroughs High School, where she was prom queen and quarterbacked the powder-puff football team. I threw for two touchdowns and beat our crosstown rival, she said.
Now she’s in a national semifinal and faces the scrappy Grantham this afternoon. Grantham, 21, who says she’s, five feet tall, on a good day, pulled off an upset when she ousted Curtis Cup player Clanton, who towered over her by nearly a foot.
Clanton’s normally consistent long game let her down. With the match all square at the par-4 16th, Clanton pulled her tee shot into the left rough and hit a tree with her approach. Grantham was safely on in two strokes and went 1 up with a par.
Grantham more or less handed Clanton the 17th hole, tied up with a bow. From some 90 yards, she hit her approach 15 yards over the green into foot-high fescue, then skulled her chip shot over the green and down the fairway. Clanton conceded a six, then safely two-putted for a par that squared the match.
At the par-4 18th, Clanton teed off with a long iron but even that conservative shot found the rough. She missed the green with her approach and bogeyed, losing the hole and the match to Grantham’s routine par.
I just didn’t do what I needed to do and I didn’t make the putts, Clanton said after the match.
Mueller’s 2-and-1 victory over the well-traveled Gavier was also an upset. In stroke-play qualifying Gavier was 5-under par and seeded second for match play, nine strokes better than Mueller. But in this morning’s match play, Mueller prevailed. With the match all square, Mueller won the 15th with a par and holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 17th to win, 2 and 1.
I’m just taking it one match at a time, Mueller said. At this level, bogeys lose and birdies win.
Gavier was philosophical about her loss. I started missing greens, didn’t get it up and down, and she took advantage of that.
Mueller, an incoming senior at the University of Oklahoma, was a quarterfinalist at the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior, while Gavier has twice represented Argentina in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship.
McCloskey, 18, defeated Do, 20, a second team All Pac-10 player at UCLA, 1 up. McCloskey took a 1-up lead with a birdie at the 16th, and then blew the lead with a bogey at the 17th. She won the match with a birdie-3 at the 343-yard 18th.
Of the four semifinalists, McCloskey has the most national stature. She reached the quarterfinals of the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior and was medalist, shooting 63 in one of her stroke-play qualifying rounds. Most of McCloskey’s success was on the American Junior Golf Association tour, where she won four tournaments.
With McCloskey facing Mueller and Grantham playing Tubert in the semifinals, two things are guaranteed: two women will play in a national final for the first time, and one of them will win her first national championship.