Cleveland – Lydia Ko, 15, of New Zealand, and Jaye Marie Green, 18, of Boca Raton, Fla., won their semifinal matches on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s scheduled 36-hole championship final of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur on the 6,512-yard, par-72 course at The Country Club.
Ko, the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, defeated Ariya Jutanugarn, 16, of Thailand, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, 3 and 1. Green, the lone American to make the semifinals, eased past Nicole Zhang, 20, of Canada, 2 up. Both players will be competing in their first USGA championship final.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, of which 10 are strictly for amateurs.
Coming off a wet course buffeted by 20-mph winds, both finalists were thrilled to be playing for the title.
“Just knowing I’m still in the running to be the United States champion gives me the chills,” said Green.
“Getting to the final feels really good,” Ko said. “My putts were rolling today, which really helps the confidence. This is amazing to beat such a great player.”
The long-hitting Jutanugarn, who won the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior, missed three putts inside of 6 feet that could have decided holes in her favor.
“She’s really a great player and an amazing putter,” Jutanugarn said of her opponent.
Ko went 2 up with a birdie at the par-3 11th but lost the par-5 12th to Jutanugarn’s birdie to see her lead shrink to 1 up. They halved the next two holes with pars.
Ko then finished with a flourish. She chipped in from 45 feet on the 15th for a birdie to halve the hole. At the 450-yard, par-5 16th, Ko hit the green in two shots and two-putted for another birdie to again go 2 up.
The deciding birdie came at the 17th. Jutanugarn missed the green while Ko hit her approach shot to within 8 feet of the hole. Jutanugarn made one stab at it, hitting a chip from deep, matted rough that went 60 feet right of the hole. She conceded Ko’s birdie putt to give the New Zealander the victory.
Green and Zhang had an epic struggle in which Zhang kept fighting back when all seemed lost. Green won the first hole to take a 1-up lead. When Zhang won the third hole, it was the only time in the encounter that the match was square. Zhang never led.
After Green birdied the par-3 11th, she was 3 up, but Zhang fought back.
“I hung in there the whole way,” Zhang said. “I didn’t give up at all.”
Zhang won the par-5 12th with a birdie and Green’s lead was trimmed to 2 up. At the 14th, a par 3, it looked as if Zhang would win another hole. Her ball was 20 feet from the hole, while Green sprayed her tee shot far to the right, some 90 feet from the hole and in the rough.
Green was as courageous as Zhang. She followed with a fine pitch shot over a bunker to within 6 feet of the hole. When Zhang missed her birdie putt, Green banged her putt into the back of the hole to retain her lead.
“To get up and down there, that definitely helped my confidence and kept me 2 up,” Green said.
Khang won the par-5 16th with a brave birdie. She challenged the fairway bunker on the right, cutting the dogleg and flying her tee shot some 60 yards past Green, who was in the bunker. Zhang hit the green in two shots, easily making a birdie to win the hole.
Green was now 1 up with two holes to play. They halved the 17th. At the par-4 18th, Khang had to win the hole to extend the match. Green’s approach shot came first and she hit a beauty that flew over the flagstick and nestled 18 feet from the hole.
Khang’s approach shot from 138 yards was right at the flag, but a gust of wind knocked the ball down, 10 feet short of the green. When Kang could not hole her chip, she conceded Green’s birdie putt and the match.
“She hung in there the whole time,” Green said of her opponent. “I feel like I’m dreaming.”
“You’re a machine,” Khang said to Green with a smile.
“You too,” Green replied.
At 15 years, 3 months and 18 days, Ko is the second-youngest finalist in Women's Amateur history, and could become the second-youngest champion. Both records are held by Kimberly Kim, who was 14 years, 11 months and 21 days of age when she won the 2006 Women's Amateur.
By virtue of reaching the championship final, Green and Ko each receive exemptions into the 2013 U.S. Women's Open, provided they are still amateurs. The championship will be conducted at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. They also receive exemptions into the next two Women's Amateurs.
Cleveland – Results from Saturday's semifinal round of match play at the 2012 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, being conducted at the 6,512-yard, par-72 course at The Country Club:
Jaye Marie Green, Boca Raton, Fla. (146) def. Nicole Zhang, Canada (144), 2 up
Lydia Ko, New Zealand (137) def. Ariya Jutanugarn, Thailand (139), 3 and 1
Cleveland – Pairing for Sunday's scheduled 36-hole championship final round of match play at the 2012 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, being conducted at the 6,512-yard, par-72 course at The Country Club (time EDT):
8:30 a.m. Jaye Marie Green, Boca Raton, Fla. (146) vs. Lydia Ko, New Zealand (137)