On a day when five of the top 10 seeds were defeated, medallist Rose Zhang prevailed in the 72nd US Girls’ Junior at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
The reigning US Women’s Amateur champion never trailed in her Round-of-64 match, cruising to a 6-and-4 victory over Lauren Nguyen.
Unlike her record-breaking round of 62 the previous day, Zhang didn’t make eight birdies on Wednesday, but her steady play ensured she would advance to the Round of 32. She won five holes with pars and didn’t make a birdie until the par-5 12th, but it was more than enough to get past Nguyen.
“In match play you can't really think about the first two days,” said Zhang, 18, of Irvine, California. “When you go out there, you have to be able to bring out your best game, and that's what I tried to do.”
While Zhang’s ball striking was superb throughout stroke play, it was her putting on Columbia’s challenging greens that keyed her victory in the Round of 64.
“They have a lot of undulation with some putts that break six feet or more,” said Zhang, the top-ranked amateur in the world. “You really have to be mindful of your speed because it's very easy to slip up and three- or four-putt.”
While Zhang’s opponent, Nguyen, will be headed home, two other players who made it through yesterday’s nine-person playoff for the final four match play spots are moving on. Avery Zweig (No. 63) and Yoko Tai (No. 61) both knocked off their higher-seeded opponents. They never trailed at any point in their matches.
“In match play you can't really think about the first two days. When you go out there, you have to be able to bring out your best game, and that's what I tried to do.” – Rose Zhang
At just 14 years old, Zweig, of McKinney, Texas, is already playing in her sixth USGA championship. She finished stroke play 17 strokes behind Xin (Cindy) Kou but won four of her first six holes on Wednesday and defeated the No. 2 seed, 4 and 2.
“Cindy is a fantastic player,” said Zweig. “Being the underdog, I knew I needed to get off to a good start and I was fortunate enough to stuff it in on [No.] 1 and then I made some good pars coming in.”
Tai saw a return to form today after an 11-over 81 yesterday sent her tumbling down the leader board into a tie for 61st, in danger of not making match play. She advanced through the 9-for-4 playoff yesterday with a birdie on the par-3 16th and kept the momentum today going in her match against Kiera Bartholomew, winning three of the first five holes before closing her out, 4 and 3.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster the first two days, but I tried to treat today like a new day,” said Tai, 17, of Singapore.
Maryland resident and No. 3 seed Bailey Davis won the most exciting match of the day. She sank an eight-foot par putt on the 18th to extend the match, then holed a 75-yard wedge shot for eagle to defeat Chloe Johnson in 19 holes.
“That was probably my best shot of my golf career,” said Davis, 18, who never led on Wednesday until the match’s conclusion. “I knew as soon as it left the club. I saw the ball land, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, it's right on line,’ and then it just rolled in.”
Another notable player to advance is 2018 Girls’ Junior runner-up Alexa Pano, who lost three of her first four holes to Sophie Linder but stormed back, taking five of the last seven holes to win, 3 and 1.
Top image: USGA/Kathryn Riley.