2002: Competition - Victory solves Wood’s match-play woes

By Lisa Antonucci

Lincoln, Neb.

For Courtney Wood, match play had become such a dreaded experience that after the Women’s Western Amateur in June, she considered withdrawing from the rest of her summer tournaments. She had never made it past the first round in any national amateur event, but all that changed at the 72nd Women’s Trans National Amateur Championship.

After winning five matches on the 6,087-yard Firethorn Golf Club, site of the 1996 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Wood was happy to have broken through her match-play anxiety and into the finals. But the real celebration occurred July 14, when she defeated fellow 20-year-old Elizabeth Burden, 4 and 3, in the 36-hole championship match.

“I think I like match play now,” said a smiling Wood, a junior at Vanderbilt. “Most tournaments in the summertime are match play, and I think it makes you a better player all around. There’s more pressure. You have to play an opponent on top of playing the golf course. . . . I needed to prove to myself I could do it. I was not going to be a quitter.”

But her attitude change wasn’t easy to come by. Wood decided she would become better at match play by diving right in. Back home in Brentwood, Tenn., she went head-to-head with her father Mike (a 7 handicapper) in a series of nine-hole matches that helped build her confidence. After winning four in a row, she felt ready to take on golf teacher Gary Sickl in an 18-hole duel. Wood lost, 4 and 3, and left for the Trans National more determined than ever.

“I was so mad after losing to him, I think it got me fired up,” she said.

Wood qualified at 142, six shots behind medalist Paige Mackenzie. She said her second-round 67 in qualifying boosted her confidence for match play.

“I would get intimidated by my opponents, even if I know I’m a better player than they are,” she said. “I was hitting the ball well and I felt good out there, so I kept telling myself, ‘Hey, you shot 67 – no one should beat you.’ ”

She breezed through the first round, beating Merynn Ito, 7 and 6. Wood closed her next three matches early, winning 4 and 3, 4 and 3, and 4 and 2, respectively. Only in her semifinal match against Penn State senior Katie Futcher did she play 18 holes. Wood won the match with a birdie on the 19th hole.

Burden has had better luck with match play, advancing to the quarterfinals of the North and South as well as at last year’s Trans National. She also made the round of 16 at the 2001 Women’s Amateur. But Burden struggled through her junior year at Northwestern and was still searching for her rhythm in Lincoln.

“I don’t think I have my ‘A’ game going,” said the Lake Bluff, Ill., golfer. “My coach says you should be able to shoot even par hitting ground balls. So it feels good to know that even with my game not as good as it should be, I can still get this far. But I don’t like playing that way. It’s a lot of work.”

The match was close throughout the first 18 holes, with Wood taking a 1-up lead twice. On 18, she stuck a pitching wedge from 115 yards within inches and was conceded the birdie.

“It felt good having a 1-up lead going into the break,” said Wood, who finished tied for 22nd at the NCAA Champion-ship in May. “The morning round had been so consistent, I thought we were going to halve the whole thing.”

But in the afternoon, Wood slowly took control as Burden lost steam. Wood won the 20th hole with a par and chipped in for eagle at the next to go 3 up. Her lead dwindled to 1 up by No. 8 (the 26th hole), but stamina was on her side.

Burden, who carried her bag for all but one day of matches, obviously was becoming fatigued. Firethorn’s director of golf, Gilles Gagnon, as well as several club members volunteered to caddie for her, but she turned them down.

Burden said she had no regrets about rejecting the offers, and explained, “I started the week caddying for myself and I felt comfortable that way. I only like a few people to caddie for me, and those are people who know me and my game well.”

The struggle, she said, was in her ball-striking. She was fighting a pull in her long game all week, and it caught up to her in the end.

Burden made double bogeys on Nos. 12 and 13, and her bogey at 14 put Wood dormie. The pair halved 15 with pars to end the match.

Wood, who hadn’t won a tournament since back-to-back AJGA events her senior year of high school, said winning the Trans National was simply “awesome.”

“When I won one of those events in high school, I was really honored because my name went on a trophy with David Gossett,” said Wood. “But I was looking at this trophy, and I saw Nancy Lopez’s name. This is much cooler.”

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