After watching her ball fade into the 16th hole to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Saturday, 3 and 2 over Brandi Jackson, Becky Lucidi wasn’t sure what to do.
After all, the fifth-year Southern Cal senior has never won a collegiate event. The closest she came to winning a USGA championship was in 2000 at the Women’s Amateur Public Links, when she was a quarterfinalist.
So she did what came naturally. She smiled, dropped her putter and went looking for caddie Ed Conners. They embraced.
Watching from afar, last year’s champion Meredith Duncan – giddy with excitement -- bolted onto the green and meandered through a crowd of people to offer her congratulations.
The passing of the baton had been completed. From one champion to another, thank you.
At the 6,190-yard, par-71 Sleepy Hollow Country Club, Lucidi, 21 and from Poway, Calif., captured the 102nd Women’s Amateur by coasting to a 6-up lead after the first 18 holes before trying to blow out Jackson, who came afire in the afternoon session. The match was scheduled to go 36 holes.
“It’s pretty surreal right now. It looks pretty good,” said Lucidi moments after winning, trotting around with the Robert Cox Trophy. “It hasn’t sunk it yet.”
But it will soon, according to Duncan.
“She won’t quit smiling for a week,” said Duncan, who bowed out of the event with a first-match loss. “When you put that trophy up at home and it’s there more than a week, that’s when it sinks in.”
This past summer Lucidi dreamt of what it would be like to win the Women’s Amateur and then set out to morph fantasy into reality. The journey began as she watched the Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. She was watching it on television from her couch with her dad when she commented to him that playing with her idols at an event like that would be the ultimate.
“It means a lot [to win]. Ever since I saw the U.S. Open this summer and saw Juli Inkster win…,” said Lucidi as her voiced trailed off. “I saw Meredith Duncan tee up with [Karrie Webb] and Se Ri Pak this year and I said, ‘That’s pretty cool, I’d like to do that next summer.’ Juli Inkster is my favorite player. Just knowing that I get to play with her next year is enough for me.”
It wasn’t easy though, despite taking the 6-up lead into the break. To be honest, the 21-year-old Jackson was less than stellar, firing the equivalent of 11 over par with one birdie, eight bogeys and two double bogeys. The embodiment of Jackson’s first 18 holes occurred in a horrific sequence on the 9th, 10th and 16th holes.
On No. 9, Lucidi went 3 up when Jackson sent her 145-yard approach 70 yards left of the green, down a steep embankment and past two tee boxes. Jackson had trouble getting up and down and eventually conceded with a double bogey to Lucidi’s par.
On No. 10, a 139-yard par 3 that abuts water, Jackson missed a 3-footer to win the hole outright. And on the 16th hole, Jackson again couldn’t steer in another 3-footer for the win.
“I guess I was putting so much pressure on having to make both of those that I just missed them,” said Jackson, who took 35 putts in the morning session.
After nailing all her fairways in the morning, Lucidi came apart a bit on the second 18 holes, only striking 7 of 12. What’s more, she regressed on greens in regulation, recording just 9 of 16 versus 11 in the morning.
Overall, she hit 22 fairways, recorded 20 greens in regulation, took 57 putts and went 3 for 5 on sand saves. She was the equivalent of 2 over in the morning and 2 over in the afternoon. By comparison, Jackson had nailed 21 fairways, 21 greens in regulation, took 61 putts and went 1 for 2 on sand saves.
Jackson, somewhat fatigued, was embarrassed heading into the break, saying, “I wanted to go crawl in a hole after some of the shots I hit.”
Instead of caving in, she and her dad had a conference before going out again. Her father, Terry, was her caddie.
“By the time I got back out there, I got it together and was like, ‘Let’s fire at it and see what happens,’” said Jackson.
And she did.
On the 19th hole, she carded only her second birdie to that point and won the hole. Then she took the next hole to cut the deficit to 4 down. By No. 26, Jackson was only 3 down when she leaned into an 11-footer for birdie.
Two holes later -- on No. 28 – the same place she missed a 3-footer for birdie in the morning, Jackson exercised those demons with a 3-foot birdie to get the match to 2 down. However, it was as close as she would come.
“About the time we made the turn and I birdie , it hit me,” said Jackson, when asked if she thought she had a legitimate chance to come back and win.
Soon after, drizzle turned to heavy showers, causing a half-hour suspension of play at 4:07 p.m. EDT. When play resumed, Lucidi pulled it together and started sinking must-make putts.
On No. 32, still 2 up, Lucidi got up and down to about 5 feet away. Jackson holed out, applying pressure. Lucidi drained it.
On the next hole, Jackson parred out, again forcing Lucidi to answer back, this time flopping a shot from 31 to 7 feet. Lucidi sank the putt to stay ahead 2 up.
The make on No. 32 was a killer, according to Jackson.
“I birdied that hole almost every time I came through there,” she said. “We were like, ‘OK, this will get me one back hopefully. Then she made that par putt.
“It was really frustrating because as much as I was trying to do my part in coming back, I was also hoping that she’d let up a little bit. But she never did.”
Lucidi ended the match on the 34th hole, a par 3. Jackson sent her tee shot to the back fringe of the green and tried to chip up, but she left the clubface open too little, sending the ball scooting 7 feet past the hole. A 4-foot miss later set the stage for Lucidi’s winner.
Jackson, who hails from Belton, S.C. and will be a senior at Furman, is exempt from sectional qualifying for two years. The same holds true for any player who finished in the round of 16.
“I definitely have to be proud of coming back and not just giving up,” said Jackson. “And, I mean, it’s a big thing to be the runner-up.”
For Lucidi, it’s the exemption into next year’s Women’s Open and countless thanks to her caddie, Ed Conners. Lucidi qualified for match play at the Women’s Amateur carrying her own bag. She had put notice out that she’d be interested in a caddie if the club could provide one.
As it turned out, Conners had been heading home when one player was a no-show. The caddiemaster called him and asked whether he’d be interested in carrying for Lucidi. He turned the car right around.
Conners has been caddieing at the club since 1961 and knows the course inside and out. Lucidi and Conner’s introduction to one another was on the practice range on the first day of match play.
After a few shots on the range, Conners said, the relationship clicked.
“We agreed we’d have a partnership,” said Conners, a no-nonsense type. “She’d make mistakes and I would make mistakes. But we agreed we’d be a team.”
That team didn’t break.
Along the way to victory, Lucidi eliminated two USA Curtis Cup team members (Emily Bastel and Laura Myerscough) and two above-average match play players in Adrienne Gautreaux and Lindsey Wright.
At the trophy presentation, the well-mannered Lucidi went out of her way to mention him.
“He was the secret ingredient. I look at him like a second dad now. He’s the same age of my dad. I know it’s funny to say because I’ve only known him for about five days, but he’ll be in my life forever,” said Lucidi.
Afterward, during an interview session, Lucidi was pressed about the difference Conners made in her winning. She couldn’t say enough.
“I trust the guy,” she said. “He’s been here 41 years. That says enough right there. He wouldn’t fail you.
“He’s just like a father figure – a good hugger.”
With that, Lucidi got up and hurried off to call her parents in California with the news: she was the 2002 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion.
Hugs all around.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted by the United States Golf Association each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur is open to female amateur golfers who have USGA handicap indexes not exceeding 5.4. Entries closed June 19.
After two rounds (36 holes) of stroke play, the lowest 64 scorers advanced to match play. The first two rounds of match play, consisting of 18 holes each, were contested Wednesday, with the third round and quarterfinals played on Thursday. The 36-hole final was set for 9 a.m. Saturday.