FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Casie Cathrea stood over a 4-foot putt on the 18th green in her third-round match against reigning U.S. Girls' Junior champion Minjee Lee when her hands began to tremble.
"I was like, OK, calm down," said Cathrea of the putt for bogey that would extend her match. "Then my caddie was like 'It's just a 4-foot putt.' And so I make it, and my hands are still shaking and I'm like, breathe, relax, you've got another hole."
Cathrea, 17, of Livermore, Calif., took advantage of the reprieve by getting up and down for par on the first extra hole, the 375-yard, par-4 first hole, and defeated Lee, 17, of Australia, in 19 holes.
Cathrea, who will attend Oklahoma State University in the fall, advances to Friday's quarterfinal match against Bethany Wu, of Diamond Bar, Calif., who ousted Samantha Wagner, of Windermere, Fla., 1 up, in the third round.
By Cathrea's own admission, the reputation of an opponent seldom affects her psyche once she steps to the first tee. Lee, however, was a rare exception, not just because she is ranked fourth in the Women's World Amateur Golf Ranking or because she had not lost in eight consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior matches.
According to Cathrea, it was because "Minjee is an awesome player and I knew she could birdie from anywhere today."
Aided by three birdies of her own, Cathrea built a 2-up lead through the first five holes of the afternoon match at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Lee, who was nonplussed by the early deficit, then began to show the precision putting that made Cathrea wary.
On holes sixth through eight, Lee rolled in birdie putts of 16, 5 and 5 feet in length, respectively, to turn the match in her favor, 1 up.
"No, I wasn't worried that I was 2 down because I had been playing well and she had just made a couple more putts," said Lee, who also birdied the third and fourth holes. "I guess I was in the zone, just rolling them in."
After combining for eight birdies in the opening eight holes, Cathrea and Lee would make one each in the final 11 holes. In fact, the inward nine proved to be an odd, tension-filled stretch.
Lee twice held 2-up leads when Cathrea bogeyed the 202-yard, par-3 11th and 354-yard, par-4 13th holes, but could not stretch the lead, even with a birdie on the 474-yard, par-5 15th hole.
Cathrea laced a 4-iron second shot from 195 yards to within 6 feet on the par-5 hole and made eagle. On the 324-yard, par-4 16th, Cathrea squared the match by hitting a sand wedge to 14 feet left of the hole and making birdie. She then bogeyed the 342-yard par-4, 17th hole, making bogey despite being 10 yards from the hole after her second shot.
With a 1-up lead standing on the 18th teeing ground, Lee was poised to take another step in attempting to become the first player since Hollis Stacy (1970 and 1971) to win back-to-back U.S. Girls Juniors.
Lee, though, pulled her tee shot, ricocheting it into the creek running along the 18th fairway. Lee made the green in 4 and still had an opportunity to halve the hole, but her 20-foot bogey attempt stopped inches shy of the hole.
That set up the nerve-racking putt by Cathrea, who was the low amateur in last month’s U.S. Women’s Open.
The win liberated Cathrea, who said, "Now I feel like I'm ready to play and I'm going to come out in the morning and play my best."
As for Lee?
When asked what she would take away from this week, she smiled and gave a slight shrug of her shoulders as she walked back up the first fairway following the loss. A few steps later she spoke.
"I'm just going to go win the U.S. Women's Amateur," she said.
Not if Cathrea has a say in the matter.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.