- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Whitney Neuhauser has played in some big golf tournaments. In addition to competing in numerous college events, the 2010 University of Virginia graduate reached the quarterfinals of the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur, got to the third round of match play in the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and won the 2009 VSGA Women’s Amateur Championship.

But none of that comes close to the challenge awaiting her today.

Neuhauser will tee it up with the best players in the game this week at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., site of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. The 23-year-old Charlottesville, Va., native earned a spot on the big stage by firing a par 144 to capture a sectional qualifier tournament in Indiana, Pa., on May 17. A former third-team All-American and All-ACC selection at Virginia, this marked Neuhauser’s fourth attempt at qualification for the Open.

“I’m super excited to have finally qualified,” Neuhauser said. “Playing in the U.S. Open is a goal of every golfer, I think. It’s kind of like the pinnacle of the sport. It’s the biggest tournament you can play in, so I’m super excited to be able to get out there and test my skills against girls that play on the LPGA week-in and week out.”

With 82 players already exempt for the Open, Neuhauser had to get in the hard way. Out of 1,295 players who submitted entries, she will be one of 74 nonexempt players who needed to fight her way through local and sectional tournaments to reach this week’s main event. She joins 25-year-old Duke graduate Brittany Lang as the only Virginia-born competitors in the field.

She also is one of 19 members of the LPGA Futures Tour — essentially the equivalent of the Nationwide Tour to the PGA Tour on the men’s side — to take part in the event. After graduating last May, Neuhauser turned pro in the fall and joined the Futures Tour the following February. She has missed five of six cuts on Tour, finishing in a tie for 68th in her most recent tournament, the Island Resort Championship in Harris, Mich.

“In terms of results, I haven’t played that well, but just talking to the girls out there it’s definitely a learning process in your first year in professional golf,” Neuhauser said. “So I’ve made rookie mistakes obviously, but I’ve learned from them. And I played well [at the Island Resort Championship] and feel really good going into the Open.”

After navigating the Island Resort Championship’s tame 6,287 yard layout, Neuhauser might feel like she’s on a different planet this week when she steps onto the longest setup in U.S. Women’s Open history. The 7,047-yard East Course should prove less menacing than it seems, however, given that its 6,230-foot altitude could allow shots to travel 10 to 15 percent farther than under normal conditions.

“It’s long but it’s playable,” Neuhauser said. “There’s a lot of holes that you can make birdies on, as long as you can drive the ball in the fairway. I think the most important thing will be to have a confident short game going in. Players who tend to do well at the U.S. Open make a lot of putts, and they get up and down when they need to.”

If its expansive fairways reward big hitters, the East Course’s large, undulating greens might benefit players with creative short games. Virginia golf coach Kim Lewellen, who credits Neuhauser for easing her transition into the helm of the school’s women’s golf program in 2008, thinks that bodes well for Neuhauser, even if she ends up on the wrong side of those tree-lined fairways.

“She’s sort of a Phil Mickelson-type player where if she hits it in the woods she’s going to curve it around the tree and get it close to the hole,” Lewellen said. “She can pull off the shots for par or birdie that not a lot of other people can do.”

With its daunting setup and talent-rich field, the U.S. Open will provide Neuhauser with her first taste of golf’s highest level. It could also be a springboard to a fulfilling career on the LPGA Tour.

“I think this will be a good test for her,” Lewellen said. “With what she can learn from this tournament and what she’s learning on the Futures Tour, I definitely see her having a professional career out there.”

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