Northern Exposure: Podolak, 2009 U.S. Girls’ Champ Anderson Share Unique USGA Bond

July 29, 2009

By David Shefter, USGA

Like a lot of members at Oxbow (N.D.) Country Club, Michael Podolak was thrilled to see a fellow member hoisting a USGA trophy last weekend. The grill room was buzzing with excitement as Golf Channel aired the finals on tape delay on Saturday.

But for the 55-year-old insurance broker, Amy Anderson’s triumph at the 61st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., was a bit more personal.

How? Twenty-five years ago, Podolak, like Anderson a longtime Oxbow C.C. member, was in the same position. Nobody had heard of him prior to the 1984 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highland Course. He had played in three previous U.S. Mid-Amateurs and three U.S. Amateurs without ever qualifying for match play.

AndersonTrophyJunior
Newly minted U.S. Girls' Junior champion Amy Anderson joined Michael Podolak as USGA champions from Oxbow (N.D.) Country Club. (John Mummert/USGA)

This particular week, however, would be different. Podolak not only advanced to match play, but went all six rounds, defeating Bob Lewis Jr. in the championship match, 5 and 4. On the way, he beat past USA Walker Cup members Marty West and Dick Siderowf, and David Jacobsen, the brother of PGA Tour/Champions Tour player Peter Jacobsen, in the semifinals (19 holes).

The victory opened doors for the then-30 year old. He was invited to play on the 1985 USA Walker Cup team, which earned him an invite to the 1986 Masters, where he missed the cut (82-74).

Nevertheless, golf brought Podolak many special memories. More recently, he’s qualified for another U.S. Amateur (2006) and U.S. Mid-Amateur (2007) and later this summer he will make his first attempt at playing in the USGA Senior Amateur, which will be played Sept. 12-17 at Beverly Country Club in Chicago.

“Life changes after you succeed in something,” said Podolak by phone. “I think my game started to elevate after I had that experience.”

Like Podolak in 1984, Anderson came into the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior unheralded. Unlike a lot of the golfers in the field, the 17 year old doesn’t play a national schedule of American Junior Golf Association invitational events. In fact, she had never played in any AJGA competitions.

Some might have thought it was a fluke that she earned medalist honors at 3-under-par 141. Few expected her to advance very far.

Relishing the underdog role and getting a few breaks along the way, Anderson found herself in the 36-hole championship match on Saturday. Of course, she did need to hole a chip from the fringe at the 18th hole in her Friday afternoon semifinal to avoid elimination against Colombia’s Luz Alejandra Cangrejo. She also watched 14-year-old Alison Lee dunk an approach shot in the water in a third-round encounter the previous afternoon. And she found a way to take down 2008 AJGA Player of the Year Victoria Tanco of Argentina in the quarterfinals.

Everything fell into place. In the final, 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kimberly Kim, 17, of Hilo, Hawaii, struggled. Anderson’s putter heated up after the morning 18 and she cruised to a 6-and-5 victory.

“I’m thrilled for Amy,” said Podolak. “Amy is a very dedicated and talented young gal. [Her putting stroke] is a thing of beauty. She’s got the softest hands around the green. That chip-in shouldn’t have surprised anybody. It was probably a 1-in-25 shot, but it went in at the right time.”

Despite being members at the same club, Podolak, who has two teenage daughters (14 and 17), said he has never played a round with Anderson. He once caddied for his oldest daughter in a club tournament, where Anderson was in the same group.

Now Oxbow C.C. can claim two national champions. Not many clubs can boast of even one, but a club 10 miles south of Fargo has multiple winners. Anderson became the fourth golfer from North Dakota to win a USGA championship. Beverly Hanson (1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Shane McMenamy (1996 U.S. Junior Amateur) have also won titles.

“That’s pretty unique,” said Podolak. “There’s very few clubs that can claim that fame. It’s not a hotbed for golf, but we’ve always had a lot of good junior players up here. She’s the exception for the gals. Her future is right in front of her.”

Added Anderson: “This just proves you don’t have to live in Florida to be able to do well in golf. Whenever I tell people I am from North Dakota they are like, ‘Really?’ There are not many people who come from there, so it was great.”

Podolak, a reinstated amateur, fondly recalls the days when he was traveling the country competing in big events. It wasn’t uncommon for him to play six to eight events a summer. But since his daughters have gotten older, his priorities changed. While he still plays, he doesn’t do so at the same vigorous pace. He also hopes Anderson, an incoming freshman at North Dakota State this fall, will take full advantage of the golf opportunities that come her way, especially now that she’s a national champion.

“Golf has been a wonderful, wonderful experience for me,” said Podolak. “And it’s just beginning for Amy.”

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

 

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