Cleveland – Jaye Marie Green got caught up in a game of chase Sunday in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship final against Lydia Ko.
In the end, on the 6,512-yard, par-72 William Flynn design at The Country Club, the 18-year-old Green, of Boca Raton, Fla., could never catch Ko on the scoreboard. Ko, 15, of New Zealand, won the 112th U.S. Women’s Amateur by a 3-and-1 margin and became the second-youngest champion behind Kimberly Kim, who won in 2006 at 14 years, 11 months and 21 days.
Ko, who turned 15 on April 24, never trailed in the match, holding the lead on 31 of the 35 holes. Ko, who came into the final ranked No. 1 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, shot two under par through the first 18 holes and held a 1-up lead at the break.
“I hung in there the whole way,” said Green, who was competing in her third U.S. Women’s Amateur and is ranked seventh in the WAGR. “Lydia’s a great player. She’s only 15 and that’s kind of scary. … She doesn’t really give you anything. Her short game is ridiculous.”
Green found that out early. On No. 2, Ko dropped in a 40-foot birdie putt to go 1 up. On No. 4, she increased her lead to 2 up when she sank another 40-footer for another birdie. Green was able to square the match on No. 12, when she converted a 15-foot putt for the second of her five birdies on the day. But that was short-lived as Ko, who hit 27 of 35 greens in regulation, won No. 13 with a par when Green couldn’t get up and down.
After Green squared the match again on the 410-yard, par-4 15th hole, this time by sinking a 10-foot comebacker for par, Ko took a lead she would never relinquish on No. 17. Ko stuck her approach shot to within 5 feet of the hole and sank the birdie putt.
“Today wasn’t my best putting day, but overall it was pretty good,” said Ko, who was competing in her second U.S. Women’s Amateur. She was co-medalist in 2011 at Rhode Island Country Club before losing in the second round of match play to Stephanie Kono.
Coming out of the lunch break, the two players halved the first five holes. Green lipped out from 7 feet on No. 19, the first of five putts by Green that would lip out down the stretch.
“I should have made a lot more birdies,” said Green, who has also competed in the 2010 and 2012 Women’s Opens, 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2008 and 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
A critical moment for Green occurred on the 415-yard, par-4 24th hole. Green blocked her drive and her ball hit a tree on the left side of the fairway before settling in a thicket of trees and deep, matted rough on the right. She tried to punch out twice but to no avail. She conceded the hole and Ko went 2 up.
“I knew she was about to hit her drive and then I didn’t hear any clapping,” said Ko, who did not see Green’s tee shot and didn’t realize that Green had conceded the hole at first. “I knew something was wrong.”
One hole later, on the 431-yard, par-4 25th hole, Ko carved out a daunting 3-up lead by chipping in for the third time of the week, this time from 60 feet.
“She chips in and I was like, ‘I’ve seen her highlights and I knew she was going to do stuff like that,’” said Green. “I mean, on the second and fourth holes, she made those long putts. You have to expect it from her.”
Ko called the chip-in the key to the match because she thought it affected Green’s confidence. Green, who took 50 putts, figured from that point on that she would need three birdies to come back.
Seemingly on the verge of winning the 179-yard, par-3 27th hole, Green suffered another setback thanks to Ko’s short game. Green, who hit just 23 of 35 greens in regulation, hit her tee shot 10 feet above the hole. Ko put her tee shot into the right greenside bunker, short-siding herself. But she hit the flagstick on the fly with her bunker shot and the ball settled 3 feet from the hole, setting up an impressive up and down. Green couldn’t convert her birdie putt and Ko held onto a 4-up lead.
With her father, Donnie Green, on her bag, Green received various pep talks.
“Her golf game has improved this year,” said Donnie Green. “She’s learned how to win and I told her that.”
Green won the 29th hole, a par 3, when Ko three-putted from 18 feet. On the 31st hole, Green’s 24-foot birdie putt lipped out, causing her to bend over in frustration.
“I could have turned it around there,” said Green. “If that putt dropped, I would have had the momentum. But it wasn’t meant to be.”
Green was able to shrink Ko’s lead to 2 up on the 450-yard, par-5 34th hole. Green reached the green in two and won the hole with a two-putt birdie when Ko couldn’t make her 6-foot birdie putt.
The match ended on the 35th hole. Green hit her approach shot heavy and it landed in the left greenside rough, while Ko was on the green in two shots. Green chipped to 24 feet from the hole and eventually took a bogey. She conceded the match when she missed her 5-foot par putt.
“My mind has gone blank,” said Ko after winning. “The last few holes it was blank. I got a little nervous in the end, but I kept giving myself pep talks. It was really emotional. Coming down 16, tears came up in my eyes. It was awesome.”
Green, obviously disappointed, felt like she let down her mother Stephanie, who flew in from Boca Raton Saturday night.
“I feel bad I lost the one match she saw,” said Green.
Green tried to remain positive at the end, focusing on the five matches she won to get to the final. The week taught her that she might have what it takes to get through the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, which is next on her schedule. She said she plans to turn professional if she reaches the second stage. With a victory at the 2011 South Atlantic Ladies Amateur Championship (the SALLY) and a runner-up finish at the 2012 Ione D. Jones/Doherty Championship under her belt, she said she’s heading to Q-School confident.
“To lose to a player like Lydia, I can’t be [upset],’” said Green. “I lost to the world No. 1.”
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.