Eleven months ago, Rose Zhang won a USGA title in Maryland. On Saturday, she’ll have the chance to do it again.
The 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion will face off against local favourite Bailey Davis in the 72nd U.S. Girls’ Junior final at Columbia Country Club, with the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy on the line.
In two thrilling semi-final matches, Zhang, the stroke-play medallist, outlasted Paula Miranda in 20 holes, while No. 3 seed Davis, 18, sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to edge Katie Li, 1 up.
For Davis, who is attempting become the first African-American female to win a USGA title, it continues a dream week in her home state.
“A few people have come up to me and said, ‘Go Maryland!’ as I'm walking down the fairway,” said Davis, a three-time Maryland high school state champion. “Everyone has been extremely supportive, and a lot of people from around the state have come out to watch me, so it means a lot to have made it this far.”
After a stress-free victory against Karen Tsuru in the morning, Davis was 1 down through 4 holes in her semi-final against Li. She won the par-5 fifth for the fifth consecutive match, then made a birdie on No. 6 to pull ahead. After her bogey on the seventh squared the match again, Davis won Nos. 8 and 9 to take a 2-up lead.
Li won the par-5 12th when Davis lipped out a 4-foot par putt, but gave it back at the 15th, when she topped her approach shot from the right rough and could not scramble for par. On the following hole, with Davis already on the back fringe, Li thought she had pulled her tee shot on Columbia’s signature par-3 16th, but her ball caught a slope and funnelled to within 3 feet.
“I thought I pulled it like 20 yards, and I was like, oh, this is embarrassing,” said Li, 16. “Then I looked back and everybody was clapping and I looked at it and it was spinning back, and I was like, oh, that's fun.”
Li calmly converted the birdie to tie the match. They halved the 17th with pars and both hit the 18th green. Putting first from 45 feet, Li lagged her birdie putt to 5 feet. Then Davis lined up her putt, took a deep breath, and made the most important stroke of her life.
“I've been gaining confidence as the week has gone on,” said Davis. “I was counting on Katie making that putt. My caddie said to me, ‘We just want to make this, so let's pick a line and sink it. That's what I did.”
Zhang didn’t have her best on Friday but dug deep and found enough clutch shots to survive the harrowing double-round day. She punched her ticket to the championship match with a 5-foot par putt on the 20th hole (Columbia’s par-4 17th) after Miranda made bogey from the front bunker.
“I didn't have my ‘A game,’ so I just had to stay patient,” said Zhang. “I had to grind out there, and I knew I had the grit to do it, but I feel really accomplished with how I played in that circumstance, and tomorrow I'm just going to go out there and play my game again.”
Zhang, who had not trailed in any of her first three matches, fell behind briefly in her quarterfinal match before taking command by winning six of the next 10 holes to close out Yana Wilson, 4 and 3.
In her afternoon match, Zhang parred her first 10 holes, but was 2 down to Miranda, who birdied the third and eighth holes. Zhang took advantage of a wayward drive from Miranda at the 11th to halve the deficit, then made a miraculous birdie on the par-5 12th, getting up and down from behind a tree to tie the match. She made it three in a row on the par-3 13th when Miranda pushed her tee shot into the right rough and failed to save par.
Miranda fought back at the par-4 17th, knocking her wedge to 8 feet to set up a birdie that tied the match. Though she ultimately came up short, Miranda held her own against the top-ranked amateur in the world.
“Before I teed off, I was pretty nervous,” said Miranda, 17, of Mexico. “That wore off as I became more comfortable with my game throughout the match. She's an amazing player, number one, so, yeah, of course I'm happy. I'm proud of myself.”