Cleveland – They were two players with padded resumes entering Thursday’s third round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Austin Ernst, 20, of Seneca, S.C., and Erynne Lee, 19, of Silverdale, Wash., both had the credentials to go far in the championship. Ernst, who played on the 2012 USA Curtis Cup Team, had a star-studded career at Louisiana State University. She was named an NCGA First Team All-American in 2011 and was included on the 2011 SEC All-Freshman team after winning the individual NCAA Division I title. Just last month, she won the Women’s North & South Amateur. But her goal coming into the Women’s Amateur was to improve on her semifinal finish last year.
Lee had similar thoughts. Just finishing up her freshman year at UCLA, Lee won the Pacific Intercollegiate in April, her first college victory. She was named the 2012 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and to the All-America First Team. She, too, was intent on improving her play at the Women’s Amateur, after losing in the 2008 championship semifinals to eventual champion Amanda Blumenherst and in the quarters in 2010 and 2011.
But something had to give between Ernst and Lee at The Country Club. Turns out it was Lee who prevailed, winning 2 and 1 to move into the quarterfinal round.
“The disappointment is pretty high,” said Ernst moments after losing. “I definitely didn’t want to lose.”
Said Lee, who beat Elisabeth Bernabe earlier in the day: “I have mixed emotions right now. I’m glad I got through today. I was tired.”
The match essentially came down to several key moments. With Ernst holding a 1-up lead entering the 10th hole, Lee squared the match after hitting a dazzling approach shot despite having mud all over her ball. She sank a 10-foot birdie putt to win the hole.
Then on the 384-yard par-4 13th hole, with Ernst again holding a 1-up advantage, Lee erased the deficit when she first stuck her approach shot to within 3 feet of the flagstick and converted the birdie putt.
“On 13, when I hit my 7-iron shot to 3 feet of the hole, that was a turning point for me,” said Lee.
“She made a good birdie on 13,” said Ernst, who plans on attending LPGA Q-School in the fall as an amateur. “She made lots of good shots down the stretch. I couldn’t capitalize on anything.”
Lee grabbed the lead for good on the 410-yard par-4 15th hole when she drained a 6-foot birdie putt. Meanwhile, Ernst couldn’t get up and down after leaving her approach shot short of the green.
On the next hole, a 450-yard par 5, Lee increased her cushion to 2 up by laying up 67 yards short of the flagstick and placing her approach shot 6 feet from the hole. It left her with another birdie attempt. In the meantime, Ernst went for the green in two shots and paid for it, as her ball found the left greenside bunker. This time, she was able to get up and down for par, but Lee snaked in her putt to win the hole.
Heading into 17 dormie, Lee didn’t let up. Although she found the left greenside rough, she was able to chip to within 4 feet of the hole. Ernst, standing over a 50-foot birdie try, blew the ball 7 feet past the hole. By that time, it was all academic. Ernst and Lee settled for pars and the match was over with the two competitors sharing a hug.
Soon after, Lee perked up when told she’d be facing 2011 Girls’ Junior champion Ariya Jutanugarn in Friday’s quarterfinal round. Suddenly she wasn’t so tired.
“I’m not really thinking about Ariya,” said Lee. “I know I have a pretty good resume. But now I’m not too tired after winning. I have an adrenaline rush.”
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.