As Amanda Blumenherst ’09 stood over her putt on the 17th hole at Eugene Country Club in Oregon this past August, she couldn’t help feeling nervous. At times like these, she says, she likes to recall all of the practice that has gone into improving her game over the years, building fundamentals that would help her in the current predicament. And so when she sank the five-footer to make par and her opponent’s birdie putt lipped out, the hours of fine-tuning her game paid off with a victory in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. The win put her in exclusive company, not only nationwide but also at Duke: The university’s only other Women’s Amateur champion in the event’s 100-plus-year history is 2003 winner and NCAA National Champion Virada Nirapathpongporn ’04.
The championship is something of an exclamation point on a much-decorated amateur and collegiate career. Blumenherst, who grew up mostly in Scottsdale, Arizona, came to Duke as one of the nation’s top recruits. Three-time national player of the year, top-ten finisher in the U.S. Open her first time out, and member of two national championship Duke women’s golf squads, she says that capturing the Women’s Amateur title is still the greatest accomplishment in her career. “It all happened so quickly. My dad ran out onto the green and gave me a big hug. It was the best golf moment of my life.”
At the 2007 Women’s Amateur, Blumenherst placed second, losing in the final match—the Amateur is a single-elimination match-play tournament—by only one hole, leaving her frustrated and disappointed. At the 2008 tournament, once again in the final pairing, again down one after a poor putt midway through the thirty-six-hole round, she pushed away those thoughts and focused on the present. She sat, eating lunch, telling herself that all she had to do was win the next hole to even it up.
But she didn’t win on the next, or the next. Still, even though she remained behind, she managed to keep pace. Her confidence grew with each stroke: She was still down, but felt sure she would win. She climbed back with a birdie on 10 and then leveled the match on 13.
Two holes later, she took the lead, and then sank another birdie putt on 16 to match her opponent’s—all she had to do was hold off disaster over the final two holes. Walking down the fairway on 17, she recalls, “I started thinking, ‘I’m really going to win this!’ ”
In May, Blumenherst will earn her bachelor’s degree with a major in history and a double-minor in English and theater studies. She will then compete in the NCAA regional and national tournaments, after which she plans to turn pro. She’s hoping that her title will help generate the kind of publicity that draws invitations from professional tournament organizers.
While she won’t be looking at any specific tournaments until this spring, her plan is to place well and earn enough money to qualify for a guaranteed spot on the LPGA tour next season. If she is not able to keep pace with the top eighty money winners, she will need to go to Q-school, a series of qualifying tournaments, in order to win her tour card. Facing this, she is characteristically sanguine.
“I definitely feel confident in myself.”