AUGUSTA, Mo. (July 25, 2017) – Lucy Li, of Redwood Shores, Calif., tied the low round of stroke-play qualifying, a 5-under-par 66, on Tuesday to capture medalist honors in the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Boone Valley Golf Club’s 6,311-yard course.
“I hit the ball really well today, much better than I did yesterday,” said Li, 14, who finished with a 36-hole total of 5-under 137, one stroke better than Paphangkorn Tavatanakit, of Thailand. “I made four straight birdies from [holes] 5 through 8. I made a 20-footer on [hole] 5, and then stuck it to like 2 feet on [holes] 6 and 7. Then I made a 6-footer on [hole] 8, so that was good.”
Li had struggled to find her pace in Monday’s first round, bogeying three of her first 12 holes and carding only one birdie in that stretch. She rallied with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 for an even-par 71, which tied for the fourth-best score of the day.
“I really struggled with my ball striking yesterday, especially with my hybrids,” said Li. “I missed the first three greens in a row, and I was 2 over most of the round, but birdied my last two holes coming in, which was good for my confidence heading into today.”
Li, who carded seven birdies Tuesday, missed a few 6-foot birdie opportunities, and bogeyed Nos. 1 and 13 in an otherwise even-keeled round.
“My outlook is every hole is a new hole, and I just start over on the next one,” said Li, who earned low-amateur honors in April in the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the LPGA season. “I really like the course. It’s playing pretty tough and the scores are high. I think it’s because it’s pretty soft right now, so it’s playing long. As long as I’m hitting my hybrids well, I feel like I’ll play well.”
In 2014, Li became the youngest to play in a U.S. Women’s Open at age 11 when she teed off against the best female golfers in the world on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2. Though she missed the cut, her youthful enthusiasm earned notoriety during the national broadcast.
She is also the youngest competitor in U.S. Women’s Amateur history, having played at age 10 in 2013. She is playing in her ninth USGA championship and third consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior. She will also play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif., Aug. 7-13.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior consists of 36 holes of stroke play, with the low 64 players advancing to match play, which begins Wednesday. The championship, scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Saturday, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Tavatanakit, 17, also bested her first-round score, carding a 3-under 68 Tuesday for a 36-hole total of 138.
“I had a really solid round today, and I was emotionally steady the whole round,” said Tavatanakit, one of three players in the field who competed in the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago. “I didn’t really pressure myself throughout the round until the last couple of holes where I was trying to tie for medalist and go to 5 under. I tried to make a birdie, but I didn’t risk any of the shots that might cost me some strokes, so I feel like I made a pretty smart decision based on the outcome.”
Fourteen-year-old Zoe Campos, of Valencia, Calif., carded four birdies to two bogeys in the morning wave for a second-round 69 and a two-day total of 140 that tied her with Caroline Hodge, of Larchmont, N.Y., and Nicole Whiston, of San Diego, Calif., for the third-best stroke-play total.
“My front nine was a little tough because I didn’t hit as many greens as I wanted to, but going through my back nine, which was holes 1 through 9, I had more confidence because I like those holes more,” said Campos, who is playing in her second consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior. “The back is hillier, and the 18th and 13th are pretty hard.”
“My goal this year was to make the cut because last year I didn’t,” said Campos who has never competed in match play. “Coming into this event, I’ve had high confidence because I’ve played really well so far this summer. I’m excited for the experience, and I think it will be all about how I deal with the pressure.”
With her brother, Corrie, on her bag for the first time in a championship, Rachel Kuehn, 16, of Asheville, N.C., also took lessons from the first round, when she shot a 75, to match Li with a 5-under 66 that included six birdies. Her 1-under 141 was matched by first-round leader and 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball co-champion Mika Liu, as well as Alexa Pano and Karah Sanford.
“I played really consistent and hit every single fairway and 17 greens, so it was a lot of keeping the ball in play,” said Kuehn, whose mother, Brenda Corrie-Kuehn, represented the USA in two Curtis Cup Matches and has played in more than 40 USGA championships, including nine U.S. Women’s Opens.
“I made a lot of the putts that I didn’t think I was going to make and missed the ones I thought were going in,” said Kuehn. “There’s some underlying slopes that you don’t really see. My last putt on 18, for instance, from one side it looked like it was going right-to-left and the other side it looked like left-to-right. The greens are really, really nice though. If you hit it on the line you want to, it’s going to do exactly what you expect it to do.”
The second round ended with a 4-for-1 playoff for the 64th match-play spot between Megha Ganne, Belinda Hu, Sydney Smith and Sarah Willis, who finished at 10-over 152. Hu, 17, of San Ramon, Calif., made par on the par-4 seventh hole, the first playoff hole, to earn the final spot.