DANVILLE –– Good friends and college teammates Whitney Neuhauser (Barboursville) and Lauren Greenlief (Oakton) registered victories in quarterfinal and semifinal round action and will meet in Friday’s scheduled 18-hole final at the 84th Virginia State Golf Association Women’s Amateur Championship at Danville Golf Club (5,714 yards, par 36-36—72).
Neuhauser, 21, a rising senior at the University of Virginia, posted a pair of 2 and 1 victories over central Virginian Hunter Ross (Manakin-Sabot) and Elizabeth Brightwell (Nellysford). A rising sophomore at the school, Greenlief, 18, notched a morning 2 and 1 victory over 16-year-old Hannah Pierce before outlasting Sara Hurwitch (Potomac Falls) in 19 holes in the semis.
Both finalists took circuitous routes in excelling on the course.
For Greenlief, in September 2008 she was a newcomer at Virginia and decided to try to walk on to the program’s golf team. Though without a scholarship, as a freshman, she was also without another important luxury at the time: a car.
It was two days before her tryout and she hadn’t hit practice balls in more than a month, save for an occasional trip to a nearby open field. Uh oh, she thought. Borrowing a bicycle provided to her by a friend staying in the same dormitory, she decided to take the five-mile trek over to the university-owned Birdwood Golf Course hoping to hit a few practice shots, her 8-iron in hand.
The route featured a few moments of relief but was mostly entailed pedaling uphill.
“It’s like that,” laughs Greenlief, her right arm pointing toward the sky at a 45-degree angle. “It looked a little dorky.”
A U.Va. women’s golfer saw her riding back on a road that leads to the Charlottesville campus and called the U.Va. head women’s golf coach Kim Lewellen.
“She was like, ‘I think our walk-on is riding her bike on Ivy Road,’ ” laughs Greenlief, retelling the incident.
Greenlief didn’t play in national events as a junior golfer. Instead, she set her mind on attending and playing golf at Virginia. She shot even par in the tryout the made the team; Lewellen was admittedly impressed by Greenlief’s determined efforts and mentioned as much to her during the tryout. And the bike incident helped Greenlief earn a nickname from her teammates and coach – ‘LA’ in honor of Lance Armstrong.
“No one really knows my real name,” Greenlief smiles.
These days, more people will undoubtedly recognize her following her victories at the VSGA Women’s Am. Greenlief rebuilt her swing in the spring with the help of Lewellen, added length to her game and equaled the event’s 54-hole scoring record in winning this year’s Virginias Women’s Stroke Play Championship.
The positive results have continued this week. The third-seeded Greenlief was 2 up in her semifinal round match against Hurwitch after 14 holes. A rising senior at the University of Kentucky, Hurwitch won Nos. 15 and 16 (birdie) to square the match and the encounter went to extra holes. At the first extra hole, the par-4 first, Greenlief struck a short iron from 111 yards to 3 feet and drained the birdie putt to decide the match.
Not bad for your first VSGA Women’s Am. It’s been an uphill climb, but well worth the journey and no one seemingly appreciates the ride more than Greenlief. Riding her bike to a practice sessions "seems like a long time ago," but Greenlief knows it's something she'll never forget.
“I’ve played so much better this year,” says Greenlief. She's excelled in the classroom as well. A double-major in economics and math at U.Va., Greenlief plans on pursuing dual masters degrees in commerce and finance. “My big thing is that I am a ball-striker. Things have really worked out well.”
The top seed and medalist, Neuhauser continued her steady play in Thursday’s action. Possessor of a 1-up lead after 11 holes against Brightwell, her second shot at the par-5 12th came to rest on the floorboard of a spectator’s cart near the green; she took the proper relief under the Rules of Golf, lofted a flop shot to 4 feet, made birdie and moved to 2 up.
Neuhauser made par via a more conventional method at No. 14, getting up and down for par from just off the green to go 3 up before closing the match at the par-4 17th hole against her teammate-to-be in the fall.
U.Va.’s stroke average leader as a junior, Neuhauser also helps tend to a family friend’s 1,500-acre farm in Orange County when she’s not going to college or playing competitive amateur golf. Part of the job description involves negotiating a manual shift 747 John Deere tractor for her father, Myron, who helps manage the farm.
“I know how to bale hay, feed the cows. That’s what I do when I want a break from golf,” laughs Neuhauser, who reached the round of 16 at the ’09 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship after advancing to the national championship’s quarterfinals last year. “I’ve only messed up a few times.”
The mess-ups have been kept to a minimum at this week’s Women’s Am. She used a workman-like approach in grinding out two victories in quarterfinal and semifinal round matches.
“It was kind of like, ‘Get it done,’ ” said Neuhauser, a foreign affairs major at U.Va. “It didn’t need to be pretty. Survive and advance. At this point, it doesn’t matter what you shoot. You just have to play better than your opponent.”
Neuhauser, too, has lovingly earned a nickname from her teammates and coaches. She recalled a forgettable moment in May 2008 ago when U.Va. was competing in the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship in Albuquerque, N.M.
Neuhauser searched and searched her bag and realized she’d left her 8-iron in Charlottesville – more than 1,700 miles and two time zones away. Staff members at Birdwood eventually located the club and shipped it via overnight delivery, an equally nice and expense gesture.
The next day, Lewellen walked into a gathering of team members, the box in hand and jokingly said, “You know, you’re a real pain-in-the…” The whole room cracked up, Neuhauser remembers. Since, Neuhauser‘s nickname has been ‘pita.; the four letters are stitched on her golf bag.
“I continue to do things to back it up,” joked the affable Neuhauser.
Greenlief knows better. The two quickly became friends and are sharing a suite at this week’s championship.
On Friday, they’ll have breakfast together and leave Twittering aside before the championship match; then, both will look for a place in history as they each pursue their first VSGA Women’s Am title in the scheduled 18-hole final set to begin at 8:30 a.m. Note: Story courtesy Virginia State Golf Association