When Maria Jose Uribe defeated reigning two-time NCAA champion Amanda Blumenherst 1-up for the U.S. Women’s Amateur title last year at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., she became a national hero. The spunky 17-year-old became the first Colombian ever to win the coveted Robert Cox Cup.
The bubbly Uribe, currently a freshman at UCLA, is no stranger to U.S. Golf Association championships, though. One who wears her emotions on her sleeve, she was a quarterfinalist in 2005 as an alternate into the field and advanced to the round of 16 in 2006. She’s played in two U.S. Women’s Opens and was also a quarterfinalist in the 2006 Women’s Amateur Public Links. She recently shared her thoughts about the impact her victory had on her home country, herself and being a teen living in Los Angeles.
You appear to be a free spirit on the course. Is that indicative of your off-the-course character?
Maria Jose Uribe: Definitely, I am a free-spirit person. I was raised to be like that. I got that from my mom.
The reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. How often have you been introduced like that and what’s your reaction?
Uribe: People say that all the time. I just smile. It is a really awkward situation … I don’t know what to do. But I guess I have to be proud of myself and enjoy it.
Do you have any golf superstitions you care to share?
Uribe: It will not end if I tell you all the superstitions that I have. But the more important ones are that I don’t play with a [certain golf ball], I hate to make birdie on the first hole, I think it is good luck to find ladybugs on the golf course … and I better stop now.
Is there a favorite quote that you adhere to?
Uribe: Gary Player: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
Did winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur change you in any way?
Uribe: It did change me, but not in the way everybody thinks. It made me realize that I play golf because I love it, and it is my passion not because of winning. I love to compete, but now I know that the day that I do not enjoy a round golf will be the day I retire. I love this game and everything about it.
Last year was a special year for Latin golfers. Who would win a match between you and Angel Cabrera, the U.S. Open champion?
Uribe: Definitely it was a year in which Latin people stepped up. I will say that it will be close [laughter]. It is match play; anything can happen.
If you could be the ‘Czar of Golf,’ what one rule would you change or implement?
Uribe: I don’t really know. Maybe I will try to fix the pace of play in tournaments. I hate to wait on every hole.
What’s been your biggest ‘Wow!’ moment as a golfer?
Uribe: I think when I got to the quarterfinals in the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur. It was definitely a turning point for my career. I realized that I was good and that I was able to compete at this level.
What’s your favorite subject at UCLA? Least favorite?
Uribe: Music history 5/history of rock n’ roll was by far my favorite class. My least favorite will be physics probably.
In the immediate aftermath of winning a championship, every champion says, “It feels great,” or “I can’t believe it.” But it takes some distance to fully appreciate what you accomplished. When did that come for you after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur?
Uribe: After three weeks of non-stop media attention in Colombia, I realized how big my win was. It was not about the tournament or what it did for me. It was about Colombian people hearing golf news, instead of soccer or other sports. I think it help to spread golf in Colombia.
How did you celebrate winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur?
Uribe: They made me a welcome party at the home course that is like my second family. Fortunately I got a video of the match, so my friends and family were able to watch the match. Obviously I went out to dance with my friends after it.
Do you have an iPod? If so, what three songs are the most played?
Uribe: Yeah. “Love song” by Sara Bareilles; “La travesia” by Juan Luis Guerra; and “No estamos solos” by Eros Ramazzotti and Ricky Martin.
What’s your closest encounter with greatness? Someone you’ve met that made you just step back and say, “Wow, that was pretty neat.”
Uribe: I had the pleasure to meet Lorena Ochoa in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open. She introduced herself to me and I think that small gesture of humbleness showed me all about her unique and modest personality.
If you didn’t play golf, what would you like to do?
Uribe: I would love to be a sports psychologist or work on a sport channel as a reporter.
What’s been your most embarrassing moment on the golf course?
Uribe: I think that every time I make a fist pump thinking that the ball is going in and it lips out.
Is there a player, male or female, who you try to pattern your game or demeanor after?
Uribe: Tiger Woods is my favorite and actually I use his swing as a pattern for mine. But I definitely see Lorena Ochoa as a model.
UCLA is right there in the heart of Los Angeles. What’s the nightlife like? Being the U.S. Women’s Amateur champ, do you rub shoulders with the stars?
Uribe: I am 17 years old, so I am not supposed to have nightlife in the USA [Laughter]. Basically I am studying, working out or I have sushi/movie night with my teammates. I have seen some stars like Bruce Willis, Shakira, Adam Sandler and others. We see Dennis Quaid almost every Friday at Bel-Air Country Club.
What’s the best thing you’ve done or seen in Los Angeles that everyone should see or do?
Uribe: Korea town [laughter]. Korean barbecue is amazing. I can thank my Asian teammates for that.