Late in the afternoon on the second Sunday in July, Paula Creamer stood on Oakmont Country Club’s 18th green. Her hands covered her face, briefly hiding one of her most joyous moments.
Dressed resplendently in pink, the 23-year-old native of Northern California gushed as the cheers rained down from adoring U.S. Women’s Open fans.
Only a few months earlier at her parents’ home in Pleasanton, Calif., the mood had been entirely different. A tearful Creamer wondered if the excruciating left-thumb injury that required surgery and a four-month hiatus from the LPGA Tour might threaten her career.
Once she got the OK to begin playing and hitting practice balls – albeit on a limited basis – Creamer came to Oakmont hoping to exorcise ghosts of Women’s Opens past. Creamer had put herself in position to win the most important major in women’s professional golf each of the previous two years, only to have weekend meltdowns. Playing in the final pairing with Stacy Lewis at Interlachen in 2008, she posted a final-round 78. A year later at Saucon Valley, she carded a third-round 79 to fall out of contention.
The 2010 Women’s Open was just Creamer’s fourth event after surgery and rehab. And Oakmont, one of the most demanding layouts in championship golf, certainly wouldn’t be forgiving. No one doubted Creamer’s determination, but could she contend with all of that adversity swirling around?
The struggle made Creamer’s four-stroke victory over Suzann Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi even more memorable. At a venue where some experts predicted a winning score as high as 10 over par, Creamer, ailing thumb and all, carded a final-round 69 over the 6,613-yard, par-71 layout for a 72-hole total of 3-under 281.
“I’ve always thought of my career as being a pretty solid player,” said Creamer, who had won eight times on the LPGA Tour entering the Women’s Open, but had no major titles. “But that question always lurked: How come you never won a major? And now we never get to get asked that question again.”
Creamer’s victory was one of the many highlights of the 2010 USGA championship season. It was a year that saw long droughts ended (see Graeme McDowell at U.S. Open) and records broken (see Jim Liu at the U.S. Junior Amateur). It was a year that saw breakthroughs (see Mina Hardin at the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur and Paul Simson at the USGA Senior Amateur) and continued dominance (see Nathan Smith and Meghan (Bolger) Stasi at the U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, respectively).
From a numbers perspective, three championships for females – the U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior –established records for entries, and the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur tied its high mark for entries. The U.S. Open nearly had record entries as well (34 short of the record 9,086 from 2009).
As the calendar draws us closer to 2011, let’s give a final look at the 2010 USGA championship season:
One question that had popped up over the years was the inability of Europeans to win since Tony Jacklin in 1970. The Euros had seemingly excelled everywhere but the U.S. Open. Padraig Harrington had won three majors in a two-year span. Nick Faldo won three Masters and three British Opens. Europe had also dominated the U.S. in the Ryder Cup. But at the U.S. Open, they always came up short.
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland ended all that talk with a brilliant performance at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. Entering the final round, the former Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup participant trailed Dustin Johnson by three shots and every golf writer from Monterey to Boston was anointing Johnson as the 2010 champion. After all, the 26-year-old from Myrtle Beach, S.C., had played flawlessly for three days and didn’t seem affected by the extra attention or major-championship pressure.
But when Johnson triple-bogeyed the par-4 second and added a double bogey at the third, suddenly the championship was wide open. The steady McDowell, a former All-American at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, pounced on the opportunity. While his final-round 74 on the 7,040-yard, par-71 layout wasn’t a gem, McDowell’s steely resolve was good enough to hold off Frenchman Greg Havret for a one-shot victory.
Johnson, meanwhile, shot an 82, the highest final-round score by a 54-hole leader since Fred McLeod’s 83 in 1911.
Neither 2010 Masters champion Phil Mickelson nor three-time Open winner Tiger Woods could mount a final-round charge, and they finished tied for fourth, three strokes behind.
“I just can't believe I’m standing here with this thing [the U.S. Open Trophy] right now," said McDowell, who had claimed his fifth European Tour title two weeks earlier at the Celtic Manor Wales Open by shooting 64-63 on the weekend. "It's an absolute dream come true. I've dreamed of this all my life, two putts to win the U.S. Open.”
The Open title was the springboard to a magical year for the affable McDowell, who holed a key birdie putt in the final singles match at the Ryder Cup to beat Hunter Mahan and give the Europeans a narrow victory in Wales. Then he rallied from three shots down to beat Woods in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
U.S. Senior Open
So much for jet lag. Or a hometown advantage.
Germany’s Bernhard Langer overcame both to win the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., in early August.
Coming off a victory in the British Senior Open a week before, Langer flew through eight time zones to get to the Pacific Northwest. Once he got his bearings, he then had to hold off fan favorite and local hero Fred Couples, whose third-round 65 on the tree-lined 6,866-yard, par-70 Ted Robinson design got the Seattle native into contention, much to the delight of the huge gallery, many of whom were supporting him.
The steely Langer, however, was the only competitor to better par all four rounds, carding a 3-under 67 in the final round for an 8-under 272 total and a three-shot win over Couples.
Couples drowned his title chances at the par-5 second hole, when he chunked his approach into a greenside pond, leading to a triple-bogey 8. Langer’s birdie made it a four-shot swing and despite some late Couples heroics, it wasn’t enough to catch the German.
“I think, obviously, when you’re totally dedicated to something you’re able to play your very best,” said Tom Lehman of Langer’s unquestioned focus. “I think it does say a lot about his ability to always stay cool under pressure. Playing with Freddie in the last group, in Fred’s hometown, and he beats him, that’s a pretty big victory for him.”
U.S. Junior Amateur
Not many people can say they have beaten Tiger Woods, especially when it comes to golf achievements.
Jim Liu is one of those individuals. The 14-year-old from Smithtown, N.Y., erased Woods from the U.S. Junior Amateur record books by becoming the youngest-ever champion with a 4-and-2 victory over Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., at Egypt Valley Country Club in Grand Rapids, Mich. Woods was 15 when he won the first of a record three consecutive Junior titles in 1991.
Liu’s win capped a record-setting week at Egypt Valley, where 15-year-old Gavin Hall shot a championship-record 62 in stroke-play qualifying. Defending champion Jordan Spieth was upended in the second round, ending his quest to become just the second multiple champion in the event’s history.
The week, however, belonged to Liu, who was seven months younger than Woods was when he won his first Junior title.
“It is an honor to be just a part of the list of champions,” Liu said. “But to break Tiger's record is just a big plus. I never thought I would do it, but it just happened to be my year this year.”
USGA Senior Women’s Amateur
No golfer in Mexico is more revered than Lorena Ochoa, who might be the country’s most famous athlete, period. But she has never won a USGA championship.
In October, Mina Hardin, a native of Mexico who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, became the first USGA champion from Mexico, claiming the Senior Women’s Amateur title at Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla. Hardin, the runner-up at the 2001 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, defeated Alexandra Frazier, 2-and-1, in the 18-hole final.
Frazier was looking to make history herself. Frazier was the last match-play qualifier and the 64th seed, and in advancing all the way to the final, she almost became the first 64th seed to claim a USGA title.
The week, however, belonged to the 50-year-old Hardin, competing in her first Senior Women’s Amateur.
“This morning when I woke up I thought I could be the first woman Mexican citizen to ever win a USGA event,” Hardin said. “This is a dream come true.”
USGA Senior Amateur
In the annals of senior golf, no male had ever claimed the British, Canadian and American senior national titles in a single calendar year. Paul Simson changed all that.
Coming off two huge stroke-play triumphs in Britain and Canada in the summer, the latter of which he won by 15 shots, the Raleigh, N.C., insurance broker was hoping to make some history and finally get that elusive USGA title. Simson, 59, had been competing in USGA events since he was a junior golfer and had done virtually everything in the game except win a U.S. national title.
That long drought ended at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Fla., when Simson dispatched medalist Pat Tallent in the 18-hole final, 2 and 1.
“There’s nothing like a USGA championship,” said Simson. “The British Seniors are very special to me. Whenever you’re a champion of a country, it’s something special. … To win the USGA Senior, as far as senior golf, nothing really compares. It is the granddaddy.
“It’s a crowning jewel for me. It’s a very special thing. And to win all three in one year, I just can’t believe it’s happened.”
Peter Uihlein entered Oklahoma State in the fall of 2008 with a lot of fanfare. But he struggled early to live up to the hype. A strong summer in 2009 led to his selection on the USA Walker Cup Team, where he went 4-0-0 at Merion and clinched the deciding point in an American romp. A strong sophomore season followed and he entered the summer of 2010 as one of country’s premier amateur golfers.
He backed it up at the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, a links-style public course on Puget Sound in University Place, Wash., that will also host the 2015 U.S. Open. Uihlein, the son of Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, defeated Stanford star David Chung, 4 and 2, in the 36-hole final for his first USGA title. Chung had come into the championship on a roll, having won the Porter Cup and Western Amateur. He also had lost the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur final, so he was excited to have another chance at a USGA title.
But on his 21st birthday, Uihlein took a 2-up lead into the lunch break by holing a chip for eagle at the par-5 18th hole. He would not relinquish the lead in the afternoon round, building as much as a 4-up advantage after 26 holes. Chung won two of the next three holes, but that is as close as he would get.
“It’s definitely the best birthday present I’ve ever had in my life,” said Uihlein. “It’s pretty sweet. To add my name to that list on the trophy is pretty special.”
U.S. Women’s Amateur
From the moment she arrived at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, 2010 USA Curtis Cup member Jessica Korda seemed poised to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur title. Nothing about the 17-year-old’s play suggested otherwise, especially after she holed several clutch putts to beat U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up Lisa McCloskey in a thrilling round-of-16 match that went 20 holes. Through the first five matches of the competition, Korda was the equivalent of 14 under par. Nobody else was even close.
But in the 36-hole final against Danielle Kang of Thousand Oaks, Calif., Korda’s brilliant putting evaporated in the Carolina summer heat.
The 17-year-old Kang, who graduated high school in January and had already spent a semester playing for Pepperdine, was no stranger to going low. She was the medalist at the 2009 Women’s Amateur, only to lose in the first round. She also earned medalist honors at the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks earlier at The Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual winner Doris Chen. And she had made the 36-hole cut at the 2010 Women’s Open.
Kang stood toe-to-toe with the taller and longer Korda and managed a 2-and-1 victory. The match was all square going to the 34th hole when Korda failed to get up and down for par from a greenside bunker. Kang’s par gave her a 1-up lead. One hole later, she stuck her tee shot on the par 3 to 4 feet for a winning birdie.
“It's so awesome,” said Kang when asked to describe her emotions after winning the title. “I don't know, but I even told myself I don't understand why people cry when they win stuff, but now I do. You're just so happy you did it.”
Meanwhile, Korda had hit all but one fairway and 31 of 35 greens, but it wasn’t enough.
“I was a little tentative this morning,” said Korda. “I was getting really frustrated with myself not only because I wasn't making, like I was making birdies, but then I was frustrated at her making birdies because I wasn't used to that. All week if I made a birdie then someone else would miss.”
U.S. Girls’ Junior
The only emotion that Doris Chen showed during the 36-hole final on another sweltering summer July day in the North Carolina Sandhills was after converting a long birdie putt at the eighth hole. Otherwise, the 17-year-old Chen showed nothing but a poker face throughout her 3-and-2 win over 15-year-old Katelyn Dambaugh.
Despite the stoic appearance, Chen was simply too strong over the final six holes against the upstart Dambaugh, who not only was competing in her first USGA event, but also was vying to become the first female left-handed USGA champion.
Chen had lost in the semifinals of the 2009 Girls’ Junior to Kimberly Kim. That experience helped when Dambaugh took a 1-up lead with a birdie at the par-4 28th hole. Chen quickly rebounded by winning four of the next five holes to put the match away.
U.S. Amateur Public Links
Thanks to a seven-plus-hour weather delay during the 36-hole final, the biggest question surrounding the U.S. Amateur Public Links was whether the match could be finished on Saturday. As darkness began to fall on Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C., it appeared more and more likely that a Sunday finish would be necessary. USGA officials even asked the finalists – Lion Kim and David McDaniel – if they wanted to continue.
Even though Kim held a daunting lead, McDaniel said he wanted to continue, hoping that the lack of light might help him carve away the deficit.
Thirty-four minutes after sunset, the 21-year-old Kim of Ann Arbor, Mich., finally holed the winning putt at 9:06 p.m. EDT for a 6-and-5 win over the 25-year-old McDaniel from Tucson, Ariz.
Given the delay, which began at 9:43 a.m. and ended shortly before 5 p.m., it was one of the longest days in APL history. Interestingly enough, the match ended at the 13th hole, where the match had first been suspended nearly 12 hours earlier.
“I wasn't going to give up,” said Kim, a senior at the University of Michigan. “I told myself, ‘It's too late to give up, you've come too far, you have to give everything you have. If you're going to go down, go down fighting.’ ”
U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links
It’s a good bet Emily Tubert of Burbank, Calif., will never forget the round she recorded in the 36-hole final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame (Ind.) against Lisa McCloskey. The 18-year-old University of Arkansas incoming freshman made five birdies in a seven-hole stretch of the morning 18 en route to a 3-and-2 win over McCloskey, an 18-year-old from Houston who had already completed two years of college golf at Pepperdine University.
McCloskey was 2 up when Tubert went on her remarkable run, which started with a chip-in for birdie at the sixth hole. Tubert built a 4-up lead at the lunch break and held on from there. She was the equivalent of four under par – with the usual match-play concessions – over the 34 holes.
“I thought if I shot four under par for the next 18, it would get me back in there,” McCloskey said. “But even if I had, it wouldn’t have done it.”
It seemed nothing was going to stop Nathan Smith of Pittsburgh, Pa., from collecting a record-tying third U.S. Mid-Amateur title at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y. Not the wacky weather or the strong play of finalist Tim Hogarth, or even the pressure of trying to become just the second player to successfully defend a Mid-Amateur title.
The 32-year-old shot a 5-under 67 in the morning round of the 36-hole final en route to a 7-and-5 triumph, joining fellow Pennsylvanian Jay Sigel as the only three-time winners of this event.
“That is the best round of golf I have ever seen,” said the 44-year-old Hogarth of Northridge, Calif. “He played phenomenal. He stuck it right it to me.”
This was no ordinary week, however. Thanks to torrential rains on Tuesday, players were forced to play what amounted to 2½ rounds of match play on Wednesday to get the field down to the two finalists. Fortunately, Mother Nature allowed for the final to be staged uninterrupted, although Hogarth probably wouldn’t have minded another weather delay just to slow down Smith, a member of the victorious 2009 USA Walker Team.
“You win one of these and you feel like you hit the lottery,” said Smith. “You never imagine that you're going to win it three times.”
U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur
Like Smith, Meghan (Bolger) Stasi has been dominating women’s Mid-Amateur golf since she started competing again in 2006. The 32-year-old native of Haddonfield, N.J., and current resident of Oakland Park, Fla., won back-to-back titles in 2006 and ’07, and joined Sarah LeBrun Ingram and Ellen Port as the only three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champions by defeating Old Dominion assistant women’s golf coach Carol Robertson, 2 up, in the 2010 final at Wichita (Kan.) Country Club.
Stasi, the former head coach at the University of Mississippi, was the equivalent of four under par over the first nine holes before holding on against Robertson, a former Futures Tour player who just regained her amateur status prior to her Women’s Mid-Amateur sectional qualifier.
“Like Martha [Leach] said in her [recent players’ dinner] speech, she waited so long for her first win,” said Stasi. “And to just have one is incredible. … The win today ranks up there with all the other wins. It’s been an incredible journey.”
Entering the biennial Match at historic Essex County Club in Massachusetts, the former home club of the Curtis sisters who donated the trophy for this competition, the USA had not lost since 1996. That is a streak of six Matches, the second-longest winning streak in the event’s history.
In the first foursomes (alternate shot), Great Britain and Ireland looked poised to finally end the streak, as all three matches were halved.
But on day two, the Americans took control of the competition, winning all six matches – three foursomes and three four-balls (best ball) for a commanding 8.5-3.5 lead. That eliminated any Sunday drama for the eight singles matches.
Jennifer Johnson of the USA clinched the deciding point in a 12.5-7.5 victory, giving the Americans seven consecutive victories. Fifteen-year-old Alexis Thompson, the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion who turned professional a week after the Match, was the USA star, going 4-0-1.
“It was a wonderful victory,” said USA captain Noreen Mohler, who grew up outside of Boston and competed on the victorious 1978 USA Curtis Cup Team. “Obviously we're very pleased and proud. I think we just went on the momentum. And I think [Saturday’s] play was huge. The matches were so close they really could have gone either way, and we just seemed to make a couple more putts than they did.”
USGA Men’s State Team
In 2009, the Kansas team walked away from the Men’s State Team Championship at the Country Club of St. Albans in suburban St. Louis thoroughly disappointed. Only a bad second round, played in inclement weather, cost Kansas the title, which went to Pennsylvania.
With team leader Bryan Norton of Mission Hills back in 2010, Kansas came to Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., determined to get the gold medal. And thanks to a final-round 68 (three under par) from the 51-year-old Norton, Kansas held off Rhode Island, Florida and North Carolina, who tied for second place four strokes behind, for the championship. The victory was especially sweet for Norton, who had pulled a calf muscle 8½ holes into the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur final against Nathan Smith.
“As soon as they selected the team, I sent an e-mail to these two guys (teammates Charlie Stevens and Tyler Shelton) that we’re going to win,” said Norton, a veteran of two previous State Team Championships. “We’re not going there to play well. We had a good team for this course.”
World Amateur Team Championships
Korea broke the record for the lowest score and won the 2010 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship by 17 strokes over the USA to claim its second Espirito Santo Trophy, held at both Olivos Golf Club and Buenos Aires Golf Club. The Koreans, who also won the title in 1996, shot an amazing 30-under-par 546 and demolished the 72-hole scoring mark of 558 set by the USA in 1998. Its margin of victory was just four shy of the record 21-shot victory by the Americans in 1998.
The USA was led by teens Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang along with Auburn University senior Cydney Clanton.
The Koreans were led by Hyun-Soo Kim, Jung-Eun Han and Ji-Hee Kim, whose final-round 71 was discarded in the 3-count-2 scoring format.
On the men’s side, France claimed its first World Amateur Team title with a four-stroke victory over Denmark. The USA finished third, five strokes back.
Johann Lopez-Lazaro and Alexander Levy each shot even-par 72 for France at Buenos Aires Golf Club. Olivos Golf Club was also used in the competition, which was shortened to 54 holes due to inclement weather. Romain Wattel had a non-scoring 74 for France in the final round.
“It is unbelievable. It is fantastic,” said Levy, 20, who won the French Amateur in 2009. “It is a great moment.”
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.