Sunday , August 10, 2014 - 1:16 PM
OGDEN – It just sits there, at little east of the clubhouse and a tad west of road. It’s one of the last things golfers at the Ogden Golf and Country Club see before ducking under the tunnel that runs underneath Washington Blvd., the one linking the two sections of the historic golf course.
And it’s one of the first things golfers see when they finally come back through to the other side.
It’s the 18th hole, a menacing par 3 with an elevated tee and green to match. In between is a deep gully filled with broken dreams.
Sirene Blair’s dreams survived Saturday afternoon, but Alli Cluff’s did not.
Down by as many as four holes on the back nine in the final of the 2014 Utah Women’s State Amateur, Cluff rallied in the late afternoon sun and ultimately got her match with Blair to all-square. Only the 18th hole remained.
“It’s really not my favorite hole,” said Cluff, a former Weber State golfer who works part time teaching juniors at the OGCC.
With birdies on 15 and 16 and a par to win 17, Cluff made things even again, an impressive accomplishment considering where she was before she’d gone through that Washington Blvd. tunnel. When she came back through, all she needed to do was win 18 and collect her trophy.
Unfortunately for her, 18 isn’t much for sentiment.
With honors on the hole, Cluff fired her tee shot high into the air and over the gully, but when her ball finally came down it plugged into the side of a sand trap, leaving her almost no chance for an easy escape. Blair, in turn, saw an opening and put her tee shot on one of the safest spots on the green.
Cluff ended up taking two hacks in the sand before conceding a short par putt to Blair, thus giving the San Diego State sophomore her first Women’s State Am title.
“I really don’t know what happened,” Cluff said afterward, sanding on that elusive 18th green. “I think maybe I just ran out of good luck.”
The only member of the final four without ties to northern Utah, Blair – a South Jordan resident – essentially crashed Ogden’s little golf party. Cluff, former Weber State teammate Emily Podlesny and Washington Terrace resident Lea Garner – a junior at BYU – went into Saturday morning’s matches with hope and local support on their side.
Cluff outlasted Podlesny, 1-up, to advance to the final. However, Blair earned a 2-and-1 victory over Garner, who dominated the stroke play portion of the tournament.
Without the slightest bit of insincerity, Cluff said she was happy just to have made it to the final 16.
She made match play just fine, but she had to fight to earn a 1-up victory over WSU’s Kristie Jensen in the first round and another 1-up win over Sadie Palmer in the quarterfinals.
In a foreshadowing of the final, Cluff built a 4-up lead on Podlesny in the semifinals, only to see her ex-teammate rally on the other side of Washington.
Playing much the same way Cluff did in the afternoon, Podlesny eventually sent the match to No. 18 before losing 1-down.
Such is the nature of match play golf, where building a good lead is one thing but closing out an opponent with nothing to lose is quite another.
“It really is (hard to bury an opponent),” Cluff said. “It was more difficult than I anticipated. I think I was 3-up on Emily with many five (holes) left, and it is terrifying. She hits one good shot and you think you have to match it or you hit a bad one and she hits a good one. I told my dad, ‘It’s amazing what the pressure will do.’ I don’t know, it was overwhelming.’”
Contact reporter Jim Burton at email@example.com or on Twitter @StandardExJimbo.
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