Charlotte, N.C. – The conversation between Cydney Clanton and a USGA official on the first tee early Wednesday morning went something like this:
How do they break ties for the match-play draw?
Said the USGA official: The computer does it.
Well, they need to change the computer.
Inevitably in a match-play format, good friends or rivals sometimes face each other, especially if they keep advancing. That’s just the nature of the beast.
But not everyone expects USA Curtis Cup teammates to meet in the first round. Perhaps in the quarterfinals, semifinals or 36-hole final, but not on day one of match play.
The four 2010 Curtis Cup participants from the USA Team in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur field – Clanton, Stephanie Kono, Jessica Korda and Tiffany Lua – were among the 64 golfers to qualify for match play. Yet by an odd twist of fate, they faced each other.
So blame this one on the Tournament Pairing Program – or TPP for short – that the USGA uses for championship scoring. Or maybe it’s the curse of Donald Ross, the designer of both Essex County Club (site of the 2010 Curtis Cup Match) in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., and Charlotte Country Club (site of the 2010 Women’s Amateur).
It’s just like a heartbreak, said Clanton, who posted a 2-0-1 mark in the five-point win over Great Britain and Ireland in June. It was kind of a bummer we had to play each other.
Clanton, the local favorite and Auburn University senior from nearby Rockwell, N.C., faced Lua, a UCLA sophomore from Rowland Heights, Calif. Korda, a 17-year-old sensation from Bradenton, Fla., drew Kono, a UCLA junior from Honolulu.
Match-ups are created based on the 36-hole qualifying scores. When there are identical scores, the computer randomly decides who goes where in the bracket. Even the three medalists – Rachel Rohanna, Erynne Lee and Jaclyn Sweeney – were slotted by the computer, with Rohanna garnering the No. 1 spot.
It just so happened that Kono and Lua were among eight golfers shooting 5-over 149 in stroke play. Korda (144) and Clanton (145) were separated by one stroke.
As one would expect in match-ups featuring talented players, the results were close and the golf solid.
Clanton finally outlasted Lua, 1 up, after Lua missed a 6-foot right-to-left sliding par putt on the high side at No. 18 that would have forced extra holes. Ironically, Lua (even-par 72) actually shot a lower score than Clanton (73), but holes won, not total strokes, are the deciding factor in match play.
Meanwhile, Korda registered five birdies and shot four under over 16 holes in eliminating Kono, 3 and 2. Kono had four birdies of her own, but two halved holes.
Despite the excellent performances, all four players were a bit disappointed by the draw.
Me and Cyd kind of laughed about it, said the easy-going Lua, who was smiling and chatting with her local caddie and Clanton throughout the match. We hadn’t seen each other all week. We just missed each other [during stroke play]. The first time I saw her was this morning [on the first tee]. We joked around a little on the golf course, but it was business definitely.
Added Korda: I was like, ‘Really?’ This kind of stinks.
Ironically, Lua and Clanton were the only two players from the eight-member Curtis Cup Team not to play in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. They also were not paired in foursomes (alternate shot) or four-balls at the Curtis Cup. But on a team where everyone bonded, the two players from opposite ends of the country became friends.
During a small break on the 11th tee, Lua and Clanton chatted about school and future classes. Clanton talked about taking a few electives to fulfill her graduation requirements and Lua told her she’s trying to get a head start on her sophomore year by taking a philosophy class during the current second semester of summer school.
But for the most part, the two players focused on their games.
You can’t dwell on it, said the 21-year-old Clanton, who had never faced a teammate prior to Wednesday’s match. You have to think of it as another competitor. And Tiffany played great today.
That was just my hope. You don’t want to win with someone not playing well.
Lua was fortunate to just qualify for match play. After starting Tuesday’s final round of stroke play with a double bogey and quadruple bogey in her first four holes, the 19-year-old was outside the projected cutline. But she birdied five of her final eight holes for a 75.
Hoping to carry that second-nine momentum into her first-round match, Lua jumped out to a 2-up lead through six holes. But Clanton’s power – she was driving the ball as much as 60 to 75 yards past Lua – took over, especially on the par 5s. She reached the 497-yard seventh in two and won the hole with a birdie. She had a wedge in hand for her third to the 574-yard uphill 12th hole and rolled in a 15-foot birdie for a 1-up lead.
That brought a cheer from the partisan Clanton gallery, which included her older brother, Chase, and grandfather, Gene.
I love having my family out there, said Clanton, who received several congratulatory hugs after finishing at 18. To be able to look at them and just get confidence. You definitely have confidence to know you have support behind you.
Clanton also had additional support in the way of a caddie. Normally a player who eschews the services of a bag man – she carried her clubs in stroke play – Clanton succumbed to family pressure and used Luke Elfner, who works with her pro David Ross at River Run Country Club in Davidson, N.C. The two chatted quite often and Clanton said his presence eased the tension of a tough match.
A caddie kind of makes it easier for me to walk and have someone for me to talk to, said Clanton, who went solo at the 2009 Women’s Amateur when she reached the third round. The first two days were kind of quiet. To have someone to talk to and kind of relax [with] was a lot better.
Armed with confidence from winning the North and South Women’s Amateur three weeks ago at Pinehurst No. 2, Clanton missed only one tee shot – a poor 3-wood off the tee at No. 14 led to a bogey and loss of hole – but she quickly recovered by holing a 10-foot birdie at 15 to regain her 1-up advantage.
Lua then missed opportunities at Nos. 17 and 18 to square the match. She had a 10-footer for birdie at No. 17 slide by the hole and she misjudged the speed on her par putt at 18 after finding a greenside bunker with a fairway-metal approach. In fact, Lua was hitting fairway metals and hybrids into most of the par-4s, while Clanton’s length enabled her to hit shorter irons into the greens.
That’s the story of my life, said Lua. I’ve never been like the longest hitter. But I can keep up. I trust my short game enough.
Added Clanton, who gave Lua a long, friendly embrace at the match’s conclusion: I definitely hit my tee ball a lot better today … so I gave myself a lot lower clubs into holes. I was able to hold the greens more because I had a lot of 9-irons [approaches].
Korda also enjoyed a length advantage off the tee, although Kono never felt threatened by her opponent’s power.
The difference came down to putting. Korda converted a clutch 15-foot par putt at the third hole for a crucial halve. She took her first lead at No. 6 with a par, added a birdie for a hole win at No. 7 and then kept the momentum going by topping Kono’s 10-foot birdie at No. 9 with one of her own to maintain a 1-up advantage at the turn.
Korda stuffed her approach to 4 feet at No. 10 for another winning birdie, and when Kono’s tee shot at the 207-yard par-3 11th found the pond fronting the green, the lead swelled to 3 up.
I had been playing that hole well all week, said Kono. I picked the wrong day to hit it bad.
I just made a few mistakes [and] she just played really solid.
Kono did drop a 30-foot birdie putt to win the par-5 12th, only to see Korda go 3 up again two holes later when she knocked her wedge approach to 5 feet. Spectacular up-and-down pars from behind the green at 15 and 16 by Korda ended any hopes of a Kono comeback.
I really had to bring out my best game, said Korda. We both knew what we do under pressure because we have seen it.
The Women’s Amateur is the end of a hectic summer for Korda, which could have been even more hectic. She went through 36-hole qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open, participated in Curtis Cup practice sessions a few weeks before the Match, played in the American Junior Golf Association Thunderbird Invitational in Arizona prior to the Curtis Cup and competed in all five sessions at the Match.
Physically exhausted, Korda struggled at the Women’s Open, missing the cut, and decided to take several weeks off instead of competing at the U.S. Girls’ Junior three weeks ago at The Country Club of North Carolina. She said the rest has refreshed her for a possible long run at the Women’s Amateur.
It felt really good, said Korda of the break from golf. I didn’t feel like I had it in me [to play the Girls’ Junior]. If I were to play that tournament, I would want to play so I could win. I would need my best game. I know I just didn’t have it at that point.
Kono, meanwhile, keeps running into teammates. At the Women’s Amateur Public Links in June, she fell in the third round to UCLA teammate Brianna Do. Now a Curtis Cup teammate has taken her out of the Women’s Amateur.
She has to wonder who is next, the next-door neighbor?
That’s just the way it goes, said Kono. Hopefully next year it will be better.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.