Favourites and high seeds in the 121st U.S. Women’s Amateur did not have a memorable Wednesday at Westchester Country Club.
The defending champion, Rose Zhang, and seven of the top eight seeds, including medallist Rachel Kuehn, were all eliminated in the Round of 64.
Elle Nachmann, a sophomore who carries a 4.0 GPA in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, rallied to defeat the No.1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, 1 up.
“I'm feeling amazing,” said Nachmann. “I knew that she was going to be a tough competitor. It really, really makes me confident.”
Hours earlier, University of Kentucky junior Marissa Wenzler, who survived a 12-for-2 playoff late Tuesday afternoon just to get into the match-play draw, ousted Wake Forest All-American Kuehn, 1 up.
It was the fifth time since 2010 that the No.1 seed has failed to advance out of the Round of 64. Amanda Blumenherst (2008) remains the last medallist to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The upsets didn’t end there. Wenzler’s Kentucky teammate, Jensen Castle, who earned the other spot in the playoff, ousted No.2 seed Kennedy Pedigo 3 and 2.
Five other top-eight seeds were also eliminated. Cara Heisterkamp defeated two-time USGA champion and No.4 seed Erica Shepherd in 19 holes; Emma McMyler beat 2019 quarterfinalist and No.5 seed Caroline Canales 2 and 1; Kailie Vongsaga rallied to defeat 2020 semifinalist and No.6 seed Alyaa Abdulghany 1 up; Rianne Mikhaela Malixi ousted No.7 seed Allysha Mae Mateo in 19 holes; and Katie Cranston beat No.8 seed Morgan Baxendale 4 and 3.
A couple of notables did prevail, including World No.2 and reigning NCAA champion Rachel Heck, who had the day’s biggest margin of victory, a 7-and-5 decision over Karen Tsuru.
University of Arkansas standout and No. 3 seed Brooke Matthews earned a 5-and-4 win over Brittany Shin.
On paper, Nachmann/Zhang looked like a mismatch. The Floridian came in No.1,968 in the WAGR with only a handful of competitions under her belt in the last year. With the Ivy League cancelling its golf season, she never played for the Quakers in 2020-21.
But in the last four weeks, she earned medallist honours in her U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier and won the Florida State Golf Association’s Women’s Stroke Play Championship, while finishing runner-up in the FSGA’s Match Play Championship. She also missed qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open by a stroke in the spring.
Zhang, meanwhile, has been on a whirlwind summer tour that included last month’s victory in the U.S. Girls’ Junior, making her the eighth player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Girls’ Junior.
The incoming Stanford University freshman also played in the U.S. Women’s Open in June, the Evian Championship in France last month, and is headed to Carnoustie in Scotland for the upcoming Women’s British Open and will close out the month representing the USA in the Curtis Cup Match at Conwy Golf Club in Wales.
Zhang, winner of 15 of her last 16 USGA matches, appeared headed for another victory when she took a 2-up lead through 10 holes. Nachmann, the niece of former top-20 tennis pro Vince Spadea, won holes 13, 15 and 16 for a 1-up lead. When Zhang looked like she would force extra holes by converting a clutch 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole, Nachmann calmly answered by making her 8-footer.
“Coming into this week I just didn't have the best game,” said Zhang, who was bidding to win three USGA titles in a 12-month period. “I had to grind through stroke play, and then in match play obviously you can't make any mistakes.”
For Wenzler, it was a 180-degree reversal from the Women’s Western Amateur title run last month at Park Ridge Country Club, where she registered five victories in the 32-player, match-play draw as the medallist. This time as the No.64 seed, the pressure was entirely different.
“Being the one seed comes with perks and cons,” said Wenzler, who dropped a 19-hole decision in her U.S. Women’s Amateur debut last year. “When you're the one seed, I think it's more nerve wracking because you're expected to play better and [win]. At the same time, when you're in an event like this, your seeding doesn’t matter.”
Nobody knew that more than Kuehn, who joined her mom, Brenda, as a USGA medallist. But against Wenzler, mistakes at critical junctures proved to be the difference.
Two down through 15, Kuehn managed to apply some pressure with a birdie on No.16. Then on the 17th hole, Wenzler’s tee shot found the trees and she was forced to punch out. Kuehn’s putter didn’t cooperate as a three-putt bogey proved costly.
On the par-5 18th, Kuehn faced a tricky 15-foot downhill-right-to-left birdie putt. When she missed left, Wenzler calmly lagged her 12-footer to tap-in range to close out the win.
“Marissa played great,” said a gracious Kuehn afterward. “I had a couple bounces not go my way and a couple that went hers, and that's golf.”
Emily Mahar prevailed in the battle of the Aussies with Maddison Hinson-Tolchard. Mahar winning the last four straight holes to close out the match 2 up at the 18th hole, she will now face off with China’s Sophie Guo in the Round of 32.
Meanwhile, Grace Kim joined Mahar in the next round after a par five at the 18th hole saw the Sydneysider take her match with Canadian Celeste Dao 1 up.
Continuing further will be a serious challenge for Kim, who will face off with the top ranked player left in the field in Heck.