Platinum Year For This Song
USC 19-year-old sophomore joins elite group of players to win multiple USGA titles in same year
Aug. 19, 2009
By David Shefter, USGA
In early July, Jennifer Song stood in the Hall of Champions of the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J., awed by the large panels listing every national champion from 1895 to the present. In the center of the rotunda, illuminated by a clerestory, is a glass case housing the originals of the 13 championship trophies that are awarded annually to those winners.
The 19-year-old Song, who was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and raised most of her life in Korea before returning to the U.S. last fall to attend the University of Southern California, wanted to make a pilgrimage to the museum, especially after becoming one of those national champions just a week earlier at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at Red Tail Golf Club in Devens, Mass.
With a week off before the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., Song and her father, Museok, a college professor, toured the recently renovated USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History.
Jennifer Song, seen here with the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links trophy she won in June, is one of two female golfers to claim two USGA titles in one season. (John Mummert/USGA)
She read riveting accounts of Bob Jones’ 1930 Grand Slam and Francis Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open triumph over English stalwarts Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
And her eyes gleamed at the encased trophies – actually, all but one. The WAPL trophy was not present because it was at the engravers where Song’s name was being added to the great list of champions. Nevertheless, one item did catch Song’s attention.
“I really like the U.S. [Women’s] Open trophy,” said Song. “I will work hard for that.”
Turns out, the U.S. Women’s Open Championship Cup was the only piece of USGA hardware that Song played for and didn’t claim in her sensational summer of 2009. On Aug. 9 at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Song became just the second female to capture multiple USGA titles in the same year, joining Pearl Sinn, who also won the WAPL and Women’s Amateur in 1988.
Song became the seventh player overall to win multiple USGA championships in the same year, a list that list includes Charles “Chick” Evans, Jones, Jay Sigel, Sinn, Ryan Moore and Colt Knost.
Besides her two titles, Song was also the low amateur at the Women’s Open, tying for 13th place to earn a full exemption into the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. Since Sinn did not make the cut at the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open, some could argue that Song’s performance this summer was one of the greatest of all time by a female amateur.
Song also finished as the runner-up in her final three collegiate events of 2009: the Pacific 10 Conference Championship, NCAA Division I West Regional and NCAA Division I Women’s Championship at Caves Valley near Baltimore, where she double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose by one shot to Purdue’s Maria Hernandez.
In 2004, Moore had what many have claimed is the greatest summer by a male amateur since Jones achieved the Grand Slam in 1930, winning the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship, the Western Amateur, the U.S. Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Amateur.
“You cannot replace winning a championship,” said Song when asked if one of her USGA triumphs was more satisfying than the other. “Both are very prestigious, so I’m very happy for it.”
A voracious student of noted sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, Song was facing some self doubt as she began the summer. Those three runner-up finishes were clearly on her mind. She had not won anything since the 2006 Asia-Pacific Games and she wondered if she could close the deal.
Her father/caddie kept reminding her during the WAPL that she was a “Samurai warrior,” that she had the talent and ability to win major competitions.
“I told myself, ‘You had a lot of chances, but you just lost it by yourself,’ ” said Song. “So when I went to the WAPL … I told myself, ‘When you get a chance, grab on to it. You need to know how to grab on to it.’ ”
She certainly did that and more. Everything bubbled to the surface on June 27, the day of the 36-hole Women’s Amateur Public Links final, where Song played the equivalent of nine under par – with the usual match-play concessions – hitting 23 of 23 fairways and 25 of 30 greens in regulation en route to a 7-and-6 triumph over 17-year-old Kimberly Kim of Hilo, Hawaii.
Her smile at the prize ceremony told it all. Doubt was replaced by a wave of confidence, which carried right through to the Women’s Open two weeks later.
Playing a brutally challenging 6,740-yard setup with green speeds at 13 on the USGA Stimpmeter, Song never broke par, but never shot higher than 3-over 74. Her steady and consistent game held up under the most difficult conditions.
A month after Saucon Valley, Song continued her brilliant play at the Women’s Amateur at Old Warson. Although she got off to a shaky start in stroke play, shooting 4-over 75, she easily qualified for match play with an even-par 71 in round two. Her steely focus and unflinching demeanor carried Song through five tough matches, including a 4-and-2 second-round win over USC teammate Lizette Salas.
In the 36-hole final against 18-year-old Jennifer Johnson of La Quinta, Calif., Song fell four holes down through 10, but her emotions never wavered. By the lunch break, the match was all square. And two holes into the afternoon round, Song had two winning birdies for a 2-up lead. Even when Johnson rallied from 3 down to square the match with a birdie at the 31st hole, Song maintained her poise under the extreme pressure.
She holed a clutch 7-foot par putt at No. 33 for a 1-up lead, then birdied the 34th hole for a 2-up advantage. When Johnson failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker at the 35th hole, Song had a 3-and-1 victory and a second USGA title.
Now she can be mentioned in the same breath as Jones, Evans, Sigel, Sinn, Moore and Knost. It’s a remarkable achievement of which not even Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods can boast.
And once the 2009 USGA championship season concludes, her name will be prominently and permanently displayed twice on the museum’s Hall of Champions for future generations to see.
“I’m really glad I have two championships in my hand right now,” said Song.
And, who knows, maybe someday she’ll get to add her name on the Women’s Open trophy as well.
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.