SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - Despite all the young, exciting talent to make birdies and headlines at the U.S. Women's Open this week, in the end it was all about experience.
Maybe it's still true - amid a torrid youth movement - that women can in fact get better with age.
Cristie Kerr battled world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa down the stretch in the final round Sunday, while the teenagers all toppled down the leaderboard one-by-one.
Both Kerr and Ochoa are proven winners on the LPGA Tour. Kerr's win Sunday was the 10th of her career. Ochoa has 13.
Earlier in the week, Pine Needles felt like a high school cafeteria more than the world's most prestigious women's golf tournament.
"I feel like I'm with my family out there," said veteran Juli Inkster, referring to her 13 and 17-year-old children.
Twelve-year-old Alexis Thompson drew large galleries the first two rounds from spectators anxious for a glimpse into the crystal ball.
Other teens contended more seriously.
Eighteen-year-old rookie Angela Park led most of the early rounds - and was still in contention until the 16th hole, when she pulled her shot left - short side into a bunker, and left herself a near impossible up-and-down. From there, she pulled her 17th tee shot left and bogeyed that hole as well. A final birdie on the 18th wasn't enough.
"I made a few mistakes down the stretch," said Park. "A few mental mistakes."
Nineteen-year-old Morgan Pressel acted the part of a proven veteran all week. She strutted a mature swagger in her step all the way down to the back nine on Sunday.
Then she watched her Open fall apart on her last five holes and finished tied for 10th - and her bravado was replaced with a stream of tears as she walked off the green.
Among the 35 South Koreans - many in their teens or early 20s in the field - many flirted with the top of the leaderboard during the week. Twenty made the cut, and 19-year-old Ji-Yai Shin began the morning one shot ahead of the field.
But the leader in South Korea's clubhouse at the end of the tournament was Se Ri Pak, 1998 Open champion and the inspiration to a generation of young girls now obsessed with the game in her country.
"It's a lot of pressure on me," said Pak of being the icon for South Korean golf. "I'm a role model for them."
The new generation still has some growing up to do.
Pine Needles' previous two champions have come from similar pedigree: Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam, both now hall-of-famers winning in the height of their careers.
Kerr didn't enter the week red hot, but she had confidence stemming from two previous Opens at Pine Needles. She finished as the low amateur in 1996 and finished in 4th place in 2001.
She had tunnel vision all day Sunday - a vicious stare she broke only after she tapped in on the 18th green. It's a stare the younger players haven't developed - at least not for an entire tournament yet.
Now it's Kerr who will join the ranks of winners like Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster and others.
"To be on the trophy having my name on it next to those unbelievable champions is something you never forget."
July 1, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.
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