Medalist Zhang, Local McCauley Advance to Round of 32 at U.S. Girls Junior
July 15, 2021
Local qualifier, Isabella McCauley, of Inver Grove Heights, defeated Esther Lee, of Walnut, Calif., 4 and 2, to advance to the round of 32, 9:06 a.m., Thursday against Karen Tsuru, of Carlsbad, Calif.
On a day when five of the top 10 seeds were defeated, medalist Rose Zhang prevailed in the 72nd U.S. Girls’ Junior at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md. The reigning U.S. 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, Calif. “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.
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 8-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.
The Round-of-32 matches will begin at 7 a.m. EDT on Thursday, followed by the Round of 16, which is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The quarterfinals and semifinals are set for Friday, with the 36-hole final Saturday. The semifinals will be broadcast live on Peacock from 3-5 p.m. EDT on Friday and the championship match will be shown live on Golf Channel from 1-3 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
Eighteen players from California advanced to match play, the most of any state, with nine of those competitors winning on Wednesday.
Seven countries are represented in the Round of 32, led by the USA with 26. China, Singapore, Mexico, Canada, Chile and the Philippines each have one representative.
Since 2000, the stroke-play medalist(s) are 22-2 in the Round of 64, with the No. 1 seed a perfect 21-0.
Four matches went extra holes, with Rianne Mikhaela Malixi and Isabella Van der Biest each winning in 21 holes.
Karoline Tuttle, 17, of Lake Mary, Fla., was 1 up on the 18th hole when her approach shot landed in the hole and bounced away to 20 feet. The hole needed to be repaired and Tuttle two-putted to win her match against Jennifer Cai, 1 up.
“My caddie said, if you hole this, I'm giving you $500. And I put it in the hole. The moment it fell in, I was pretty shocked. I didn't think that would actually happen. I was more worried about winning the match than the $500.” – Davis, on her match-clinching eagle on the 19th hole
“We were at the Cheesecake Factory, eating pretzel bites and pasta, looking into moving our flights up because I thought I missed the cut, then my mom said I was on the number. So after being resigned to the fact that I wasn't going to be playing today, it was kind of helpful because it was a free roll.” – Zweig, on her mindset in today’s Round of 64
“I found some motivation in the middle of the round and decided that I wasn't going to lose the match. I felt really confident once I won a couple holes and didn't think there was any doubt in my mind I'd get it back.” – Pano, on her comeback victory against Sophie Linder
“When I finished the 62, I was like, ok, I'm done with the round, I made the cut. Then I found out I shot the course record. It was quite a surprise. But match play is obviously very different from stroke play. With that in mind, I didn't really think too much about it.” – Zhang, on her second-round 62
“When you’re down, you just have to take a few deep breaths, play one shot at a time, and just kind of stay within yourself. I know that I can hit some good shots and come back, then it’s just a matter of executing in a really big moment.” – Tuttle, on winning two of her last three holes.
Mike Trostel is the executive producer of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.