Colorado Springs, Colo. – Birdie Kim and Morgan Pressel were at extreme ends of disbelief, and Brittany Lang just sighed in relief.
On the 72nd hole of the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills Country Club about 90 minutes north of The Broadmoor in suburban Denver, Kim celebrated after having holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie to break a first-place tie with Pressel, who stood in the 18th fairway. Watching Kim make only the fourth birdie on No. 18 for the championship, Pressel buried her head in her hands, knowing an opportunity to win as a 17-year-old amateur had all but passed.
Inside the clubhouse sat Lang, a 19-year-old fellow amateur who had been the clubhouse leader for nearly an hour, watching the finish unfold on television.
Lang started her final round in 12th place, four strokes off the lead, and ascended the leaderboard with an even-par 71 on a day when the field scoring average was more than five strokes higher.
I was just in shock, because I had so much fun, and I was nervous because I couldn’t believe I was in that position, said Lang. I didn’t know what was going on, but when I went in the clubhouse they told me I was leading and I could be in a playoff.
I was actually more relieved than anything [when Kim birdied], because I couldn’t imagine playing in a playoff on Monday. Everybody laughs, but that is honestly what I was feeling.
In this championship’s 66-year history, only one amateur has ever won – Catherine Lacoste of France in 1967 at Virginia Hot Springs Golf and Tennis Club in Hot Springs, Va.
Since then, four amateurs have threatened to join Lacoste. Along with Lang and Pressel, Jenny Chuasiriporn lost a 19-hole Monday playoff to Se Ri Pak in 1998 and Nancy Lopez finished four strokes back of JoAnne Gunderson Carner in 1975.
This year at The Broadmoor, 25 amateurs have qualified.
Pressel, now 23, can speak from the perspective of an ambitious amateur who has become a polished professional.
There are a lot of young kids who come in without much expectation, said Pressel, who, at age 12 became the youngest player to qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open in 2001. (Alexis Thompson broke that mark in 2007) They just play, they’re fearless. Maybe they don’t play as cautiously as we do.
While Pressel’s professional career features two LPGA Tour wins, including a major (the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship), she readily admits that the week at Cherry Hills ranks as one of her finest.
One of the best tournaments I ever played, said the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion as she prepared for her ninth U.S. Women’s Open this week. It’s hard to say being five over par that I played really well, but Cherry Hills was a very tough course and the setup was very difficult.
Through 54 holes, Pressel was tied for the lead along with 15-year-old amateur Michelle Wie and England’s Karen Stupples, a seven-year tour veteran, at 1-over par 214.
What unfolded on that Sunday was riveting.
Wie succumbed to the pressure early en route to a final-round 82 and tied for 23rd. Stupples stumbled early, shot 78 and went on to tie for 10th.
Obviously I try to forget about Sunday, but Thursday to Saturday it was pretty fantastic, Wie said. Going into the last day leading and falling apart, you do learn a lot from it. You learn a lot from your mistakes, because obviously I made a lot that day.
A year later at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, Wie again held the 54-hole lead before tying for third. Annika Sorenstam defeated Pat Hurst in an 18-hole Monday playoff for her third U.S. Women’s Open title.
In 2005, Pressel was already making her third U.S. Women’s Open appearance. She missed the cut in 2001 and finished 52nd two years later. Though only 17, she was a veteran of several USGA events.
Pressel had been a semifinalist at the 2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior, then defeated Wie in the third round the following year en route to a quarterfinal finish. She also reached the quarterfinals of both the Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2004.
She was making national headlines and would do so again that August at Settindown Creek outside of Atlanta by winning the Women’s Amateur before turning pro later that fall.
You would have to ask others what the expectations [were for me], she said of being in contention at Cherry Hills. I learned that even though I was an amateur, I was good enough to play on tour and play on the biggest stage of women’s golf.
While Lang was the oldest of the three amateur contenders and a two-time All-American on Duke University’s 2005 NCAA Division I national championship team, she was unaccustomed to the enormity of the Women’s Open. Lang played with a sense of freedom that comes with being an amateur.
Amateurs are so aggressive and have no fear, said Lang, who turned pro in 2006. I think the pros think so much, Oh my God, this is so tough, the greens are so tough, this is so hard, she said. The amateurs just go out, relax and have fun. It’s just another golf course to them.
Lang still is seeking a major title, though she finished tied for fifth in last year’s Women’s Open at Oakmont. She also never wonders What if … regarding 2005.
Surprisingly no, I have never thought that, because I got second, I was 19 and that is pretty darn good, she said.
But will there ever be another amateur U.S. Women’s Open champion?
Absolutely, Lang said.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelancer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.