Always A Lady'Back

FAYETTEVILLE -- What has Amanda McCurdy meant to Arkansas women's golf?

Almost everything.

When McCurdy tees that little white ball up for the last time as an Arkansas Lady Razorback this week at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, the state will be saying farewell to not only an important part of the program's rebirth. But perhaps to the most important golfer in school history since a guy by the name of Daly.

Think that's too strong of a comparison? Well just time warp back five years or so and take a look at where Arkansas women's golf -- both statewide and Lady'Backs-wise -- was before McCurdy's arrival.

"Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to recruit Amanda, but I was fortunate enough to be the benefactor I guess," said Arkansas women's golf coach Kelley Hester. "Everybody kept asking me, do you think this kid is going to be as good as they say she is? And I didn't know because I hadn't seen her play. But I was a little skeptical, to be honest, because there's been a shortage of quality female players from the state."

Hester was right. Not too many Michelle Wie's and Annika Sorenstam's had popped up from the great Natural State.

Unlike others before her, though, McCurdy was something different.

Heralded as the next great thing, the 5-foot-1 blond-haired ball of fire was getting serious props even before she arrived on campus. But unlike others before her, McCurdy didn't disappoint.

"Right from the start, Amanda and (fellow senior) Courtney (Mahon) bought into what we were doing," said Hester. "I mean those two would have done anything we asked them to. And they were the main reason why we got it turned around."

Wasting no time proving she was the real deal, McCurdy posted three top 10 finishes as a freshman in 2002-03. Then came two wins and five Top 10's as a sophomore the next year.

She was just getting started.

As McCurdy enters her final week as a Lady'Back golfer, she boasts a total of four victories and 10 Top 10 finishes to her credit, not to mention that small little tournament in Erie, Pa. in the summer of 2004 where McCurdy made national waves with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women's Amatuer, earning a spot in the 2005 U.S. Open.

Stats and accolades aside, though, McCurdy is ready to stamp her name into Arkansas immortality for good with a strong finish.

"I think my top golfing achievement as far as this school is concerned is just accumulation of the years, really," said McCurdy. "Because you always dream about national championship or making it to the national championship, but when we came in we never knew if it was going to happen.

"And I think for me to feel like I ended this as best I could, I think to end this on a good note and leave a lasting impression would be important for me. Because I didn't feel a part of the team at regionals. So to end on a good note and help lead the team at nationals would be a good way to leave a good impression."

At the NCAA West Regionals, McCurdy did struggle to a 40th-place finish after an opening round 69 was followed by scores of 79 and 83. But despite her individual lapse, Arkansas managed to sneak into its second-straight NCAA Championships by earning the eighth and final spot out of Auburn, Wash.

"No doubt some fields we've played this year have been tougher than (the regional)," McCurdy said. "But still, we got in there even though we kind of struggled. And lucky for us, we are a more talented team than we were a couple of years ago that we were able to have a couple of bad days and still kind of sneak in there."

As Arkansas' darling princess of golf, McCurdy doesn't want to be remembered for her struggles down the stretch. Instead, she hopes to help the Lady'Backs improve on last year's 11th-place showing at nationals.

"Last year, it was still like getting used to this is where we should be," McCurdy said. "And the difference this year is we didn't question ourselves. We're like, we're here, we're going to be for a while and the question in our minds, that's gone. I think that's the biggest difference and a lot of that came from Kelley and (assistant) Shauna (Estes)."

No matter what happens this week in Columbus, McCurdy can be rest assured she will be remembered and respected for all the good she brought to the Arkansas women's golf program,

Even her own teammates know what the Lady'Backs will be missing.

"Amanda and I came in at the same time and it was a perfect fit," Mahon said. "She kind of got all of the attention and I sort of was off in the background.

"But Amanda has meant so much to Arkansas and to this program."

And regardless of this week's outcome, McCurdy is sure to see even brighter days on the golf course in the future.

Beginning June 12, McCurdy makes her bid for a second U.S. Open by going through sectional qualifying in McKinney, Texas.

Last year, McCurdy finished 39th at the Open... as an amatuer.

"I'm thinking I'm going to be professional (for the US Open)," McCurdy said. "But once again, there's no rush. Unless you make it, you get in there and it's a pretty good pay day if you make it.

"But there's plenty of time for that."

With just one college tournament left, it's hard for McCurdy not to look ahead. And who can blame her with such a bright future on the horizon.

No matter where she ends up, though, or how she finishes up this week, McCurdy will always remember her time at Arkansas.

And the fans should do the same.

"I'm ready for the next step. I mean I think if I was moving on from this area and leaving all these people behind, I'd be more sad," said McCurdy. "But I want to end up here, number one, and I'm not really leaving them. So hopefully this is going to be my career and I'm not really ending anything.

"I'll always be a Lady Razorback."

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