The cellular phone was handed to Kelli Kuehne at about four
o'clock as she stood behind the 18th green at The Country Club
in Brookline, Mass. Her older brother Trip was on the other end
of the line, back home in McKinney, Texas. As Kuehne took the
phone from her mother, she beamed, then chatted for a moment
with her brother. "I can't really talk right now," she said.
"There are all these people around." In fact, there were about a
hundred people around, and they were all waiting for the
18-year-old golfer with the sweet swing to step up to the podium
and accept the USGA's slender silver cup as the 95th U.S.
Women's Amateur champion.
For Kuehne, who last week became only the fourth female in 47
years to double as a U.S. Girls' Junior champion (1994) and a
Women's Amateur champion, her 4-and-3 victory over Anne Marie
Knight in the 36-hole final was more than just an individual
triumph. It was an exorcism by proxy. In the '94 U.S. Amateur
final at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Trip,
then a junior at Oklahoma State, lost to Tiger Woods after
squandering a six-hole lead with 12 holes to play. The loss was
devastating not only to Trip but to Kelli, who followed him
around the course that day. "I felt like I played every hole
with Trip," Kuehne reflected last Friday, on the eve of her own
final. "And I've been replaying it all in my mind the whole time
I've been here." Asked whether winning the Women's Amateur would
be a kind of cosmic payback, Kuehne flashed a Texas-wide smile
and said, "You betcha."
If the golf gods showed a sense of justice last week, they also
showed a sense of humor when they paired the 6-foot Knight with
the 5'2" Kuehne. Although the baby-faced Kuehne may be short in
stature, she is long in ambition. And when her competitive fires
are stoked--and they always seem to be stoked--she can give off
some serious Texas heat, scorching the competition. And
sometimes Trip. "We get some scary matches going," Kelli said of
the sibling rivalry. "Sometimes he makes me play the men's
tees." Kelli thrives on the challenge. "I'm a very intense
person," she said. "I've just always wanted to be the best at
She very nearly has been. In four years at Highland Park High
School in Dallas, she was undefeated in 20 matches. What makes
Kuehne's achievements more remarkable is that she has
accomplished them all in spite of the fact she has juvenile
August 20, 1995
Knight's achievements in only 10 weeks in the United States are
also remarkable. A 24-year-old resident of Adelaide, Australia,
she most recently worked part-time as a salesperson for Nestle
coffee before deciding to quit her job to test her competitive
golf skills. "All I wanted to do was play golf," she said after
winning her semifinal against Wendi Patterson of Atlanta. "And I
needed to come here to see what the standard was like." Knight's
game has held up well. Four weeks ago she won the Women's Trans
National Championship in Kingston Springs, Tenn., defeating
Kellee Booth, one of the top-ranked amateurs in the U.S., in the
At The Country Club, Knight dispatched her first three opponents
without much trouble. Playing in the fourth round against
32-year-old veteran Robin Burke of Houston, Knight was 3 down
before rebounding for a 2-and-1 decision. The semifinal against
Patterson, a three-time Georgia State Amateur champion,
see-sawed until Knight closed out the match with an 18th-hole
birdie to win 2 up.
Kuehne, meanwhile, was also being extended. After leading 5 up
early in her third-round match against Wake Forest junior Laura
Philo, Kuehne gave it all back and secured a one-up victory
only when Philo three-putted the 18th.
Kuehne, who will attend Texas in the fall, next faced Arizona
State sophomore Booth. After falling 2 down on the front, Kuehne
rallied with four birdies to win one up and move into the
semifinals against Se-Ri Park, a 17-year-old from Seoul, South
Korea. Though she was popping Maalox like jelly beans before the
match, Kuehne, who had been fighting a virus for several days,
birdied five of her last seven holes and won 5 and 4.
When Kuehne arrived for Saturday's final, she was handed a
two-page fax. From Trip, it started, "Way to go! I'm so proud of
you!" It included a handful of things he had drawn from his own
U.S. Amateur experiences. First on Trip's nine-point list was,
"You still have a job to do." Second: "Hold your head high and
smile at all times."
If Kuehne wasn't exactly smiling on the 1st tee, she was clearly
concentrating on the job ahead of her. Her large brown eyes were
focused already on a point in the fairway straight ahead. Knight
grabbed the first lead with a birdie at the 3rd. It would be her
last lead. Kuehne won the next two holes with a birdie and a par
and was one up after the morning round.
If there was a turning point in the afternoon, it came early, at
the 429-yard par-5 3rd hole. From an elevated tee, the players
hit to a narrow neck in the fairway that is no more than 15
yards wide. Miss to either side, and you are faced with a blind
second shot over a huge hill. On the right the player is also
faced with a cluster of immense oaks. Knight hit her drive
square in the middle of the opening. Kuehne sliced hers onto the
hill. What Kuehne did next was to pull a Tiger Woods. She
threaded a six-iron through a "hole" in the trees and to within
75 yards of the green. "I was actually thinking about Tiger and
Sawgrass," Kuehne said. "That's just what he did [against Trip].
The shot was a big momentum rush." Kelli, in fact, birdied from
10 feet and went 2 up.
After getting to 3 up with a birdie on the par-3 12th, Kuehne's
win was signed and nearly sealed. She did seal it with a big
drive on the par-4 15th, a wedge to six feet, two putts and a
par to Knight's bogey.
"I believe I've always been a good pressure player," a
teary-eyed Knight said later while sipping a Heineken. "I just
couldn't get anything to happen." Kuehne clearly did, and in the
process won the biggest trophy of her young life.
If by some chance at next week's U.S. Amateur in Newport, R.I.,
Trip Kuehne happens to find himself on the 18th green at the end
of the week holding a large silver trophy, you can be sure there
will be a phone ringing somewhere nearby.