History-Making Attempt for Higgins Ends in Quarterfinals

Diane Lang didn’t fly halfway across the country for the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur to get reacquainted with friends. Nope, this mission had a purpose, and the itinerary didn’t include 19th-hole cocktails or checking out Oklahoma’s finest cuisine.

“Diane doesn’t do social,” said the 53-year-old Jamaican-born Lang who now resides in Weston, Fla. “We do winning or unhappy. That’s two choices.”

Lang, the Senior Women’s champion in 2005 and ‘06, moved a step closer to re-claiming the trophy she relinquished last year in Sunriver, Ore., defeating reigning U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Joan Higgins of Glendora, Calif., 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals Wednesday morning at Tulsa Country Club.

Wearing a game face from the opening hole, a determined Lang set out to repeat the outcome of a 2007 Senior Women’s second-round match, when she defeated Higgins, 4 and 3, en route to the semifinals. A few early hiccups – a missed 3½-footer for par at the first hole and hitting a tree branch with the approach at the second – were replaced by brilliant shot-making that included tap-in birdies at the fifth and 10th holes, the latter giving Lang the lead for good.

Lang finished the equivalent of even par for the 16 holes, with the usual match-play concessions. She registered four birdies and didn’t have a bogey after missing a 21-foot par attempt at the par-3 ninth hole.

The 52-year-old Higgins, meanwhile, had entered the match as the hottest female senior amateur in the country. Two weeks ago, she became the oldest champion in U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur history and had not been extend beyond the 15 th hole in her three previous matches at this week’s championship.

“She was coming into this tournament with a whole lot of confidence,” said Lang. “Thankfully, I played halfway decent today. I am still having problems with my driver, but I managed to get it around.”

Higgins didn’t have the same mojo as previous rounds. She did drain a clutch 12-foot birdie at No. 5 to earn a halve, but missed a 7-foot birdie at the par-5 eighth to win the hole. At the par-3 ninth, Higgins had another chance to win a hole, but failed to convert from 9 feet. After Lang’s brilliant approach at 10 to 2 feet for a winning birdie, Higgins made consecutive bogeys at 12 and 13 to go 3 down. Lang managed to get up and down for par at 13 and 14, the latter from a greenside bunker, to close the door on any comeback hopes.

“It was just one of those days,” said Higgins. “When you win, (the putts) go in. When you lose, they don’t. I think she knew with me winning the Mid-Am, she was pumped up for me. I wasn’t a nobody anymore.

“This morning warming up I was a little quick (and) unsettled. I knew I was going to have to play well and maybe I put a little pressure on myself. I really did try to enjoy myself and I did. I wish I would have played better. But it’s been a great three weeks.”

Ironically, Higgins scheduled her flight back to Southern California Wednesday at 5 p.m., thinking she would not advance to Thursday’s championship match. “It’s been fantastic,” said Higgins, who played tennis at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970s. “Hopefully in ’09 I can do just as well.”

Lang, who faces 51-year-old Claudia Pilot in Wednesday afternoon’s semifinals, isn’t satisfied with making the final four. Last year, she admitted to not giving her full attention to winning, and dropped a 1-down semifinal decision to Robyn Puckett. So for the past year, Lang has pointed toward this competition. She started seeing swing coach Tommy Fonseca at Heron Bay in January and working on her fitness with physical trainer Jeff Kroop.“He works mostly with resistance bands and stretching,” said Lang.

To prepare for the subtleties of the A.W. Tillinghast greens, Lang bought a special device after last year’s Senior Women’s Amateur that helps determine slopes and breaks. The ever-meticulous Lang spent last Friday making copious notes of every green complex, using arrows to show which way putts would break.

Even with a local caddie, Lang pulled out her notebook for each putt. She then pointed the handle of her putter toward the hole to pick out a specific spot on the line. “I’m a spot putter so I just look to see where I think it’s going to go,” said Lang. “I pick up an old ball mark and try to roll (my ball) over the ball mark.”

So far so good. One more win on Wednesday and Lang will be in the championship match for the third time in four years.

“This has been a one-year goal,” she said. “You need to want this 120 percent. I only wanted it 98 (percent last year) and that won’t work.”

By USGA New Media staff writer, David Shefter. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

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