FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The tension Bailey Tardy felt as the stroke-play medalist at last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior was palpable.
Feeling the expectations of being the No. 1 seed, Tardy was a bundle of nerves as she took on Abbey Carlson. She would be taken all the way to the final hole in earning a 1-up victory. The next morning, Tardy was eliminated in the round of 32.
“The thought in my mind was, ‘Wow the No. 1 seed is going to lose,’ ” the Norcross, Ga., resident said. “I think that’s what held me up in the first round.
“This year, obviously, I don’t have that pressure on my back and I can just go out and have fun.”
Tardy, 17, quietly qualified for match play at Forest Highlands Golf Club’s Meadow Course, giving her a matchup with No. 32-seeded Emma Albrecht. No bull’s-eye was on her back nor was there extra pressure.
Without the heavy burden of being No. 1, Tardy rolled to a 5-and-4 victory on Wednesday. She closed the match with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 14th hole, just a short walk from the clubhouse. For the round, Tardy was the equivalent of 7 under par, with the usual concessions for match play.
Qualifying for last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 has also given Tardy, a University of Georgia commit for the Class of 2015, extra calmness on the course that she didn’t possess a year ago.
“I know how to control my nerves now instead of freaking out and making careless errors,” she said.
There weren’t many mistakes against Albrecht. When Albrecht, of Ormond Beach, Fla., stuffed her approach on No. 1 to within inches of the flagstick, Tardy answered with an approach to 5 feet for a birdie to halve the hole. By the eighth hole, Tardy had built a 5-up lead, thanks to four birdies.
She’d like a repeat performance on Thursday morning in the round of 32, where she’ll face medalist Angel Yin, a 4-and-2 winner over Julie Luo. Talk about a role reversal.
“I know I’m talented enough to beat the No. 1 girl,” said Tardy. “It’s just whoever plays the best over 18 holes, and I’m excited.”
Yealimi Noh must love playing bonus golf. Last week, she lost a three-hole playoff to U.S. Girls’ Junior competitor Karah Sanford in the Girls 11-12 division at the Callaway Junior World Championship held at the Rancho Bernardo Inn.
“I lipped out my putt,” said Noh of her defeat to Sanford, who missed the match-play cut by one stroke.
On Wednesday, Noh, 12, of Concord, Calif., was forced to extra holes in her first-round match against Kaitlyn Papp. Papp rolled in a birdie at the 18th hole to take the match to the 19th hole, where Noh got up and down from a greenside bunker at the par-4 first hole to advance. Noh converted from 4 feet after Papp, who also missed the green, missed her 6-footer.
“She made a really good putt [on 18] and I started getting nervous,” said Noh, a rising eighth-grader and the third-youngest competitor in the field this week behind Sanford and Ellie Szerdyk. “Today I putted well.”
Next up for Noh is 17-year-old Cindy Ha, of Demarest, N.J., a semifinalist at last week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and an incoming freshman at Vanderbilt University. Ha turns 18 in 20 days. Noh, meanwhile, turns 13 this Saturday, the day of the 36-hole final. Winning the championship certainly would be a nice present.
But making match play has already been a nice bonus.
Practice Makes Perfect?
Gigi Stoll seems to have figured out this comeback thing. At last month’s Bob Norquist Oregon Junior Amateur championship match at Waverly Country Club in Portland, Ore., Stoll, 17, trailed Kaitlin Collom by two holes with two to play.
Stoll went birdie-par-birdie to win the title in 19 holes.
On Wednesday, Stoll was 4 down with six to play against Dylan Kim, of Plano, Texas, and somehow found a way to advance. With her opponent dormie-2, Stoll won the par-3 17th with a 3, then knocked a 7-iron approach from 155 yards to 7 feet for a winning birdie to force extra holes.
“The birdie on 18 was huge,” said Stoll, who also won the 2014 Oregon Women’s Amateur.
At the par-4 first hole, Stoll lipped out a birdie putt, but Kim failed to get up and down for par from a greenside bunker. She’ll face Virginia Green in the round of 32 on Thursday morning.
“Hopefully this momentum will carry over,” said Stoll, a 2015 University of Arizona commit who is competing in her third U.S. Girls’ Junior and fourth USGA championship. “Anything can happen [in match play].”
Better Late Than Never
Nearly 12 hours after the 11-for-8 playoff for the final match-play spots began, Malia Nam tapped in a 2-foot par putt on Wednesday morning to conclude the festivities. Darkness halted the playoff on Tuesday evening, meaning nine players had to return to the 16th hole to vie for the last seven spots. Robynn Ree secured the first spot on Tuesday with a birdie-3 on No. 16 just before play was halted.
“It was really hard because I am still not used to the time zone,” said Nam, 14, of Kailua, Hawaii. “Hawaii is three hours back, so it’s almost like waking up at [1 a.m.].”
Nam could have avoided the playoff altogether with a better finish to her final stroke-play qualifying round, where she made a double-bogey 5 and a bogey-6 to shoot a 7-over 79 after opening with a 71.
And then her approach to the 16th hole stopped 50 feet short of the flagstick, leaving a challenging putt over a knob and then downhill to the hole. Fortunately, Nam had the identical putt on Tuesday.
“I knew the line and the speed,” said Nam, who later fell to second-seeded Marijosse Navarro, 17, of Mexico, 4 and 3, in the round of 64. “I was pretty confident.”
This is Nam’s first USGA championship, but not her first experience with match play. She won the 2013 Kaanapali Match Play Championship on Maui.
“That’s a big accomplishment for this being my first time [at the Girls’ Junior],” said Nam. “I just came in [to the second playoff hole] thinking, just make par. “I don’t have to try for birdie because other girls are going to make mistakes. I just tried to keep calm.”
Young Girls Treated To Clinic
Forest Highlands hosted “These Girls Rock!” a free girls’ golf clinic on Wednesday morning as part of the festivities for this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. The First Tee of Phoenix, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, the Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA) and Forest Highlands collaborated to offer 84 girls, ages 4-17, a chance to get more exposure to the game. It was the largest girls’ golf clinic the area has ever hosted. The clinic included golf instruction, drills and games, chipping, putting and swing stations.
Guest speakers included Pam Wright, former Arizona State University golfer and LPGA Tour player, and Brad Bedortha, the women’s golf coach at nearby Northern Arizona University. Bedortha also brought several of his current players to help with the clinic.
Various forms of wildlife are prevalent at Forest Highlands and one elk decided to make his presence known on the 13th green. When USGA and course officials arrived to prep the Meadow Course for the first round of match play, they discovered some large footprints on the putting surface. With the help of the grounds staff and members of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship Committee, the issue was resolved.
Viva La Mexico … And The Philippines
All three Mexican golfers to qualify for match play advanced: Navarro, Monica Dibildox (19 holes over Madison Odiorne) and Ana Paula Valdes (4 and 2 over Fuzzy Brooks). And the Philippines saw all of its four match-play qualifiers reach the round of 32: Princess Mary Superal (8 and 7 over Maria Davis); Yuka Saso (19 holes over Nina Alexis Novilla); Clare Amelia Legaspi (7 and 6 over Amanda Doherty); and Sofia Chabon (21 holes over Hannah O’Sullivan.
Mexico’s lone USGA champion is Mina Hardin, who claimed the 2010 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. The Philippines has never had a USGA champion, but Dottie Ardina was the runner-up to Ariya Jutanugarn in the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.