Sometimes in golf all you need is a break, but defending U.S.
Amateur champion Kelli Kuehne didn't think the stress fracture
she suffered in her right foot last fall was going to do
anything for her game. Stuck in a walking cast for 7 1/2 weeks
and under strict orders to stay off the golf course, Kuehne, a
practice-aholic sophomore at Texas, decided to concentrate on
the only phase of the game that does not require two sturdy
legs: putting. In lieu of hitting hundreds of balls, Kuehne
spent hour upon hour stroking putts. In December, after the foot
had healed and she was allowed back on the course, Kuehne
continued to devote a significant amount of practice time to
putting--she works on her stroke four hours a day, four days a
week--and that extra effort was rewarded handsomely last week
during the U.S. Women's Amateur at Firethorn Golf Club in
Kuehne began her 36-hole championship match against long-hitting
Marisa Baena, the NCAA champ from Arizona, by running in birdie
putts of 28 and eight feet on two of the first four holes. Then,
after Baena fought back to square the match, Kuehne one-putted
five straight greens to go 3 up heading into the final 18.
Baena, a native of Pereira, Colombia, who at 5'4" and 116 pounds
amazed spectators all week with drives of up to 300 yards,
sliced the lead to one after 34 holes, but when her eight-iron
tee shot at the par-3 35th failed to clear a water hazard, she
conceded the match.
Kuehne, 19, became the 11th woman to win consecutive Amateurs
and the youngest to repeat since Beatrix Hoyt, starting at age
16, won back-to-back-to-back in 1896-98. The strong-willed
Kuehne, who has lost just one match, to Janice Moodie earlier
this summer in the Curtis Cup, since last year's Amateur, had a
simple game plan last week: beat Baena. "Everyone said Marisa is
the best college player, but I felt the championship was mine to
win or lose," Kuehne said.
And in the end, with all the work she had put in on the little
shots, there was no reason to believe she would come up short.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Kuehne jumped out in front in the 36-hole final by draining birdie putts. [Kelli Kuehne]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Baena, the slightly built NCAA champion from Arizona, muscled some drives 300 yards. [Marisa Baena]