2006: Hometown hero McCurdy succeeds through hard work, determination
The neighborhood Applebee’s in El Dorado, Ark., occasionally swaps out the drink specials on its illuminated sign with “Congrats Amanda.” There’s even a collection of newspaper clippings on the restaurant’s wall touting Amanda McCurdy’s accomplishments.
When big things happen to people in small-town America, everyone takes notice.
“Just hard-working, good people who like golf,” said McCurdy of her hometown admirers. “And even if they don’t know anything they’ll sit there and watch it for four hours just hoping they’ll see me. In their eyes I’m a pretty cool chick.”
McCurdy, the first Arkansas native to be named to a U.S. Curtis Cup team, is deeply proud of her blue-collar roots. Her father, David, is a chemical operator, and her mother, Linda, works in the accounting department at Murphy Oil.
When their only child does something special – like make the cut at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open or finish runner-up at the ’04 U.S. Women’s Amateur – her 5-foot-1 frame is plastered all over the sports section of the El Dorado News-Times.
McCurdy, a two-time Arkansas Junior Girls state champion as well as two-time Women’s Stroke Play and Match Play state champion, is a bit of a local celebrity. Still, she admits she “wasn’t some hotshot coming out of high school.”
The town of roughly 25,000 has two golf courses – one public, one private. McCurdy grew up on the public one, Lions Club Golf Course, where the only sand she found was in a divot. A lack of bunkers to practice in, however, didn’t slow McCurdy.
She started playing tournament golf at 14 (the year she stopped growing) and competed in three American Junior Golf Association events before landing a scholarship close to home at the University of Arkansas. McCurdy won four tournaments in four years and helped lead the Razorbacks to a top-10 ranking her final season.
“I just feel like whatever ‘it’ is – you know they talk about ‘it’ in show business – she’s always had that,” said Arkansas coach Kelley Hester. “(It) helps keep you composed when the pressure’s on.”
What most likely landed McCurdy on this year’s Curtis Cup team was her gutsy performance at the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she finished runner-up to Jane Park. McCurdy is the first to admit she caught Paula Creamer on an off day when she ousted the budding star in the quarterfinal round. But there’s something to be said for the tenacious way “Lil’ Bit” bangs it around the course and into the hole. It’s enough to make a pure ballstriker like Creamer go mad.
“I would never, ever tell anyone I beat her on a good day, because I didn’t,” McCurdy said. “But the Amateur showed me I could beat those good players. I could beat them on any given day.”
McCurdy’s performance earned her a spot in the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open, where she grinded around Cherry Hills, tying for 38th.
It was a performance that led to a startling revelation about professional golf: “I might can do this,” she said in her simple Southern charm.
McCurdy didn’t fare as well at this year’s Open at Newport (R.I.) Country Club, where she missed the cut with rounds of 80-81. However, she knows it’s time to buckle down and start working on the things that matter. Like practicing 10-foot putts instead of the 3-footers she rarely misses. Or taking a break from pounding drivers – she hits plenty of fairways – to work on elevating a swing that’s pancake flat.
Still, she doesn’t expect to be a marquee player July 29-30 at Bandon Dunes when the United States attempts to claim its fifth consecutive Curtis Cup. She has grown quite fond of her underdog status.
McCurdy knows what she brings to the table: A steady stream of pars, a no-fear approach to knee-knocker putts and enough patriotic pride to pump up any and all of her American peers.
“It’s important to play with someone who can bring it when they need to,” said teammate Paige Mackenzie, who partnered with McCurdy in October at the Spirit International Amateur.
The entire McCurdy clan will be on hand at Bandon to watch Amanda’s final amateur appearance. The McCurdys haven’t taken a vacation in the past decade that didn’t center around one of Amanda’s tournaments.
It has been a limited schedule at best, but McCurdy has hit all the high points, logging thousands of miles in her Nissan XTerra along the way. It’s a journey McCurdy believes is far from over.
“I think I’ve not even come close to what I’m going to get to,” said McCurdy, who plans to attend LPGA Qualifying School this fall. “I’ve seen flashes of brilliance and highlights.”