Lunke struggles following Open success

Originally Published: June 9, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. -- Hilary Lunke would not be surprised if she never won another tournament. After all, her biggest goal upon becoming a professional golfer was to win one, any one. The fact that she captured the U.S. Women's Open was the stuff of dreams.

With that victory, however, came a certain level of expectation, a sense from Lunke and those around her that she needed to live up to the accomplishment.

Where they're playing

This week:
Cialis Western Open
Lemont, Ill.
Cog Hill G&CC
(7,073 yards, par 72)
$4.8 million (Winner: $864,000)
Thursday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Friday: 4-6 p.m. ET (USA)
Saturday: 3-6 p.m. ET (ABC)
Sunday: 3-6 p.m. ET (ABC) Defending champ:
Tiger Woods

This week:
U.S. Women's Open
South Hadley, Mass.
The Orachards GC
(6,473 yards, par 72)
$3.1 million
Thursday: 2-6 p.m. ET (ESPN) Friday: 2-6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Saturday: 3-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
Sunday: 3-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
Defending champ:
Hilary Lunke

This week:
Commerce Bank Long Island Classic
East Meadow, N.Y.
Red Course, Eisenhower Park (6,904 yards, par 70)
$1.50 million (Winner: $225,000)
Friday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Jim Thorpe

This week:
Smurfit European Open
Dublin, Ireland
The K Course (7,313 yards, par 72).
Thur.: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Fri.: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sat.: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sun.: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Philip Price

This week:
The Reese's Cup Classic
Hershey, Pa.
Hershey Golf Club (East Course) (7,154 yards, par 71)
$450,000 (Winner: $81,000)
Defending champ:
Joe Ogilvie

Lunke sure didn't look like a fluke in winning the tournament in an 18-hole playoff last year at Pumpkin Ridge. But it would be difficult to view it any other way today as she prepares to defend her title at the Orchards Golf Club.

Before her glorious week at Pumpkin Ridge outside of Portland, Ore., Lunke had never contended in 22 LPGA Tour starts. Ditto for the 24 events since. She earned $560,000 for the victory but earned $654,660 overall last year. This year, she has earned just $25,430 to rank 110th on the money list.

"Everyone I know and people I don't know can see how I'm performing at my job," Lunke said. "My salary is published in the paper. Some people recognize that it's tough, but others think that we live this glamorous lifestyle, so when we play poorly, they aren't afraid to tell us. It can be hard, definitely.

"I just don't determine my self-worth based on how I played golf. To a certain extent, you want to try your hardest and perform as well as you can, but at the end of the day, golf isn't all that I have to my life. That helps give me some balance, and when I'm playing poorly, it helps me keep my confidence and my spirits up."

Lunke, a former golfer at Stanford, had to return to the LPGA Tour's Qualifying School after the 2002 season because she failed to earn enough money to keep her playing card.

Then she had to endure two stages of qualifying just to make the U.S. Women's Open field.

Once there, she scrambled her way around Pumpkin Ridge. In the playoff, Lunke got up and down 10 of 11 ties and needed just 23 putts.

It was the surprise of the year in women's golf, and started a trend of no-name major championship winners. Ben Curtis, who had never finished among the top-10 in a PGA Tour event, won the British Open two weeks later. A month after that, Shaun Micheel won the PGA Championship, his only victory to date.

Lunke, like Curtis and Micheel, is struggling to show that it wasn't a fluke.

This year she has made five of 11 cuts and missed the passed two. Her best finish is a tie for 36th on May 2 in Atlanta.

For Lunke, it helps having some perspective.

"I am the same person and the same player that I was at this time a year ago," she said. "I wasn't a person who was expected to go out and win major championships. But I respect the position I'm in and making sure I'm working as hard as I can to defend my title."

Five Things To Watch

Tiger Woods goes for his fourth victory in eight years at the Western Open. The defending champion, however, has just one victory this year.

While 16 teenagers, including Michelle Wie, tee off at the U.S. Women's Open, Annika Sorenstam, 33 hopes to add the title to the two she already won in 1995 and 1996.

Casey Wittenberg, the low amateur at the Masters, makes his professional debut at the Western Open.

The Western Open is a mini-qualifier for the British Open, with the top player not already exempt earning a spot. Also, it is the culmination of a money race that included the Players Championship and the last five tournaments.

The Champions Tour is at the Long Island Classic, where Jim Thorpe defends his title.

Cog Hill Golf & Country Club's No. 4 course has been home to the Western Open since 1991. Nicknamed "Dubsdread,'' the course has long been ranked among the top public venues in the country. Golf Digest has it ranked 40th among its list of America's 100 Greatest Courses. Designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee in 1964, the course has long, tiered bentgrass greens and tree-lined fairways.

It measures 7,073 yards and will play to par-71 this year after the fifth hole was changed from a par-5 to a 480-yard par-4.

The Western Open has a long history that coincides with the Western Golf Association. The first tournament was played in 1899 and won by Willie Smith. Over the years, the tournament moved around the Midwest, often stopping in the Chicago area. It's made a permanent home at Butler National Golf Club in 1974 before moving to Cog Hill in 1991 in the Chicago suburb of Lemont.
It might not have seemed like Britain, or felt like Britain. There were no sand dunes or cars driving on the left side of the road. But Monday's 36-hole event at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., was all about the British Open. The trouble was, a good number of PGA Tour pros who were scheduled to be there felt it was too much to bother.

For the first time this year, the British Open held qualifying tournaments around the world, including the U.S. version at Congressional. The idea was to attract worthy pros who were not otherwise exempt and spare them the time and expense of traveling overseas for such an adventure.

So what happened? A whopping 52 players who were scheduled to compete in the qualifier for 15 spots in golf's oldest championship to be played in two weeks at Royal Troon decided to skip. Royal & Ancient officials, who run the British Open, were not pleased. After all, they scheduled the qualifier near a PGA Tour event, making it as easy as possible.

You can debate whether British Open qualifying should be played anywhere but Britain. But if you're given the opportunity to qualify in your backyard. ...
Somewhere, Arnold Palmer must be shaking his head. Consider Arnie's plight back in 1962, when he won at Troon. First, he had to travel to Scotland to qualify -- after having won the prior year at Royal Birkdale. Back then, everyone, even defending champions, had to qualify.
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer a few of your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.
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Q. Pebble Beach is considering hosting a women's U.S. Open down the road and St. Andrew's will host the women for their British Open. I was just curious if these courses would make any adjustments for the women since they've only been played by the men (use the shorter tee boxes, thin the rough, etc.?).
Michael Roque
Northfield, N.J.

A. The courses would almost certainly play shorter than they are set up for the men's major championships, although they likely will still be among the longest played on the LPGA Tour. In keeping with major championship conditions, the rough will be longer, the fairways narrower, the greens faster. All of it is relative to how regular LPGA events are set up.

Q. I'm very much against the PGA allowing TV viewers to call in during broadcasts and pointing out a rule infraction that would be reviewed for possible sanction. To me, this only hurts the few contenders that the networks focus on in any given broadcast. In my opinion, unless every shot, by every player, is broadcast for viewer scrutiny, no viewer input should be allowed. What is your take on this?
Steve Urka
Ludington, Mich.

A. It is difficult to disagree with that position. There seems to be a fairness issue involved when some players might be viewed by millions, while others might not be seen by anyone. This is a sport, remember, that prides itself on players assessing penalties against themselves. It is the job of playing partners to protect the field by making sure fellow competitors abide by the rules. And yet golf embraces anyone pointing out rules infractions. The tour typically counters that if any violations are brought to their intention, it is their job to investigate, no matter how the information was received.

Q. What is the story on Tom Lehman? Why is he not playing or is missing so many weeks?
Larry Browning
Abingdon, Va.

A. Lehman, who is coming off his best finish of the year, a tie for 11th at the Booz Allen Classic, took a long break after missing the cut at the Players Championship. He didn't play again for two months. Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion, has played in 12 tournaments, missed just two cuts, and made more than $450,000.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to He can be reached at

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