DANVILLE, VA (July 10, 2009)--Barboursville’s Whitney Neuhauser finally owns the Virginia State Golf Association title she’s long sought.
A rising senior at the University of Virginia, Neuhauser played a pitching wedge approach to 10 inches to set up a conceded birdie at the second extra hole, the par-4 second, to outlast teammate and friend Lauren Greenlief (Oakton) in 20 holes in the championship final at the 84th VSGA Women’s Amateur Championship at Danville Golf Club (5,714 yards, par 36-36—72).
Neuhauser, 21, the event’s stroke play medalist and top seed, claimed her first VSGA Women’s Am title. U.Va.’s stroke average leader as a junior, Neuhauser reached the round of 16 at this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship followed by a quarterfinal round appearance in ’08.
A three-time runner-up at the VSGA Junior Girls’ Championship, she also finished second at the ’07 Virginias Women’s Stroke Play prior to breaking through for her first victory in a VSGA championship.
“To finally get a title is just incredible. It’s a great feeling right now,” said Neuhauser, who took home the Kohler Trophy. “It feels good to sort of get the monkey off the back.”
The finalists played at a refreshingly brisk pace and their play was equally as crisp for much of the match. Trailing 2-down in the early moments, Neuhauser played holes 3-12 in seven under par – and was only 2 up following that stretch. The 18-year-old Greenlief, a rising sophomore at U.Va., made four birdies of her own in that span.
Wielding a hot putter, Neuhauser converted four consecutive birdies from Nos. 3-6, capping the surge by holing a slippery downhill 40-footer and the par-3 sixth to take a 1-up advantage.
“I rolled the ball really well today. I had one of my better putting rounds. I was seeing the lines really well and I had the speed of the greens down,” said Neuhauser, who reached the round of 16 at this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship following a quarterfinal round appearance in ’08.
Undeterred, Greenlief knocked in a 6-footer for birdie at No. 7 and added another from close range at the ensuing hole to take a 1-up lead.
Neuhauser seemed to take control of the encounter during a mid-match surge, winning three consecutive holes from Nos. 9-11 to seesaw ahead 2 up. She got up and down for birdie from just off the green at the short par-5 ninth to square the match, then drained a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-3 10th and concluded the stretch by winning No. 11 with a par.
Importantly, Greenlief remained in close range during her opponent’s birdie onslaught.
“She was making putts, but I thought, ‘If you hit good golf shots, you won’t be far behind,’ ” said Greenlief, the '09 Virginias Women's Stroke Play champion.
Greenlief made a 5-footer for par at No. 14 and earned a conceded birdie at the par-5 15th hole to square the match. Neuhauser knocked in par putts from inside 4 feet at Nos. 16 and 17 to keep the encounter all-square.
The 18th hole featured the kind of gutsy play usually reserved for top-level competitive professional golf. Neuhauser two-putted from 45 feet, negotiating a subtle two-tiered green for par. Greenlief drove it left off the tee and punched out before calmly knocking in a downhill 15-footer, shooting her arms in the air to the applause of a swelling gallery in forcing extra holes.
With Neuhauser bound for bogey at the first extra hole, No. 1, Greenlief’s downhill 7-foot par chance to win the match caught the lip of the cup and just missed.
“When it came off the putter, it was exactly on the line I wanted. That happens. I had the right line,” Greenlief said.
The two good friends combined for 13 birdies in the match, with Neuhauser playing the decisive short-iron shot from 112 yards at the 20th hole to tap-in range. Greenlief’s second shot came up short of the green and ultimately when her par-saving putt when past the cup, she conceded the hole to her opponent.
Neuhauser was admittedly in between clubs on her second shot at the deciding hole, electing to play a full pitching wedge shot rather than hitting a 9-iron. Indecision certainly didn’t affect the results of the approach.
“I could feel the adrenaline going and my heart was racing a little bit,” she said. “I know you’re not supposed to do this, but I was standing over the ball thinking, ‘It’s not enough club. It’s not enough club. It’s not enough club.’ It turned out to be the shot of the tournament.”
At the conclusion of the match, the two friends embraced, knowing they’d played a memorable match that produced a loser in name only.
“If she sticks her shot to a foot, all you can do is high-five her and say, ‘Good shot,’ ” Greenlief said. “We respect each other’s game. At the end of the day, we’re teammates and really good friends.”
Neuhauser, a longtime pupil of Glenmore Country Club director of golf Kandi Comer, PGA, dedicated the victory to her teacher and her instructor’s 14-year-old son Michael Comer, who was on her bag in the match serving as her caddie. Neuhauser credited Michael with keeping her calm in the stressful closing moments of the match.
“They mean so much to me. Kandi’s like a second mom to me basically,” Neuhauser said. “Michael’s really mature and kept me grounded. Today, he taught me a lot.”
Match play results from the championship flight and championship consolation flight at the 84th VSGA Women’s Amateur Championship at Danville Golf Club (5,714 yards, par 36-36—72) on Friday, July 10 (stroke play qualifying score indicated).
CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT FINAL DAY PAIRING
(Friday, July 10)
(1) Whitney Neuhauser (Barboursville), 69 def. (3) Lauren Greenlief (Oakton), 71, 20 holes
CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT CONSOLATION FINAL DAY PAIRING
(Friday, July 10)
(28) Katie Murphy (Virginia Beach), 83 def. (6) Kara Spence (Hampton), 73, 20 holes