FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Megan Khang's up-and-down second-round match at the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship on Thursday ended on an up note.
Khang, 15, of Rockland, Mass., made a 4-foot birdie putt on the 20th hole to defeat Hannah O'Sullivan, 15, of Paradise Valley, Ariz. Khang, playing in her fifth straight U.S. Girls’ Junior, advanced to play Maddie Szeryk, of Allen, Texas, in this afternoon's Round of 16 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
"It was hectic," Khang said. "It was all up here [in my head] and scary sometimes. You can never be comfortable."
That lack of comfort showed on her scorecard, which was congested with five bogeys and seven birdies, including two on the playoff holes. The more impressive of the two came on the 19th hole.
O'Sullivan, who was 2 down after the second hole and 2 up through the 14th hole, hit a spectacular hybrid approach shot to within 4 feet on the first playoff hole, the 387-yard, par-4 first hole.
"It was very intense and scary, especially after Hannah hit that amazing shot on the first playoff hole. I was like ‘I have to match that?’" said Khang, who nestled a wedge shot to 8 feet behind the hole and made the first of the two players' birdie putts there.
Khang hit her first and second shots on the second playoff hole – the 479-yard, par-5 second hole – into the rough. She deftly played her third shot to within 4 feet for the birdie attempt. O'Sullivan, meanwhile, left her third shot 13 feet from the hole and missed her birdie attempt.
"It was a great match and it's sad that one of us had to lose because we're good friends," O'Sullivan said. "We were just going back and forth."
Khang, now 5-3 in U.S. Girls' Junior match play, won the opening two holes with a par-birdie start.
"I knew there was so much more golf left with 16 more holes," said O'Sullivan, who went birdie-par on the third and fourth holes to square the match. "Anything can happen, you see it all the time in match play, so I didn't panic."
Khang won the sixth hole to regain a 1-up lead, before O'Sullivan, playing in her second U.S. Girls' Junior and fourth USGA championship, briefly took control with the more consistent play. O'Sullivan parred the 406-yard, par-4 eighth hole to square the match and built a 2-up lead with another par at the 352-yard, par-4 13th hole.
After halving the 151-yard, par-3 14th hole, Khang, who had never advanced beyond the second round, knew it was go time.
"I was thinking, I have 4 holes to get it back, so let's do it," Khang said. "Then I won 15 and 16, and I settled down a little."
When Khang made par on holes 16 through 18, it marked the first time in the match that she had made par on consecutive holes. "My ball striking was pretty good, but I couldn't get up and down when I had to. So that kind of gave her a little momentum."
Just not enough to outlast Khang.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.