Medalist Julieta Granada, 17, of Paraguay, defeated 17-year-old Jane Park of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on the 20th hole of the final match Saturday to win the 56th U.S. Girls' Junior, held at the 6,256-yard, par-71 Mira Vista Golf Club course.
Granada, who shot 4-under 138 in stroke play, became the first medalist to win since In-Bee Park in 2002. The match tied Pat Hurst and Adele Moore in 1986 and Judy Eller versus Beth Stone in 1957 as the longest in history. It also marked the fourth time in the championship's history that extra holes were needed.
“I don't think I got it, that I just won,” said Granada. “I mean, it's such an honor. I see all the names on this trophy and I feel so special winning this.”
Packed with intensity on another sun-sweltering day, Granada again executed like a tactician. Missing just two fairways and one green in her semifinal match against 17-year-old Paula Creamer of Pleasanton, Calif., Granada was hotter than the oppressive Texas heat in her ball-striking. Heading into the semifinal, she had only missed three fairways.
On Saturday, she followed up the Creamer match by nailing 12 of 16 fairways and 18 of 20 greens. In fact, her biggest gaffe came on the opening hole, which she bogeyed. It would be her only bogey of the match. Yet Park, who had also missed just four fairways and registered 15 of 20 greens, couldn't take advantage. After Granada guided a 15-foot downhill putt close, with it bringing the first “Super!” of the day from mother Rosa, all eyes turned toward Park to draw first blood.
Eighteen feet off the right corner of the green looking at a sidehill lie, Park flubbed a chip that left her 8 feet above the hole. She pulled the ball left and the hole was halved.
It set a portentous theme for Park, who went 1 for 7 in closing out a hole with a victory when putting from 15 feet or less.
From that point the match was so close that Grenada's largest margin was no more than 1 up. Park never led.
“Golf only has one winner,” said Park, who placed runner-up at last year's U.S. Women's Amateur. “Second doesn't really do it for anyone.”
Asked which was more disappointing, Park opted for the Women's Amateur.
“I think I feel more from the Amateur because it was 36 holes,” she said.
Granada had held a 1-up lead from the fifth through 11th holes before Park got even on No. 12. She drained a tough 8-footer that was above the hole on the undulating green.
Granada, though, gained it back on the next hole with a 4-foot par putt. Granada seemed re-energized, clapping heartily three times while walking to the 14th teeing ground. It was short-lived because Park squared it again by winning No. 14.
The match remained even until the 20th hole, but not without drama.
The penultimate special moment for Granada, prior to the 20th hole, occurred on the par-5 17th. Park seemingly had it won when she reached the green in two, positioned for an eagle from 15 feet right of the hole. That's because Granada found herself in a near-impossible situation. She first drove her ball 237 yards into the left rough. Then with her feet in the fairway bunker grasping an 8-iron while focusing on a bad sidehill lie, she could only punch out 160 yards that still left her 102 yards short of the hole.
“But laying up, that was the best shot of the week,” said Granada, who stuck her approach shot, with a wedge, to 12 feet left of the hole.
Park could only two-putt, opening the door for Granada to at least have a chance to halve. And she did, shrieking and thrusting her right arm in the air authoritatively.
“When I see that ball go in, I think ‘Tiger [Woods],'” said Granada through an accent. “I felt the greatest thrill of my life. It was such a great feeling, because I thought everything was over if I didn't make that putt there.
“On the 17 th hole coming down the fairway, I said to myself, ‘How bad do you want it?' And when I made that putt on 17, I was like, ‘Well, you want it really bad.'”
Said Park: “I didn't think she was going to miss it. I knew she was going to make it because she's so clutch.”
Park said she prepared for a playoff while walking to No. 18 because “it's not an easy hole to birdie.”
It held true as they both parred and off they went to No. 1, a tight 391-yard dogleg left, squaring it.
On hole 20, Park hit a fade that mirrored the same shot off the tee earlier in the match. It had the same result, too, finding the thick rough to the right. With 185 yards to the hole, Park opened the face of her club too much, flitting the approach shot into the right rough, 12 feet off the green. In the meantime, Granada was 12 feet from the hole on two shots.
Park opted for a flop shot next, and the ball took off, running 15 feet by the hole. When Park couldn't convert on the putt, she conceded. The two hugged before Granada embraced her caddie and mother.
Afterward, she made plans to call her father Alejandro, a restaurant manager, who lives in Paraguay most of the year. Her father kept up by following her matches on the Internet.
“He's going to go insane. He's going to be so happy, because he's along there and made so many sacrifices for us [her mother],” said Granada in reference to her mother.
They spoke at 7 a.m. prior to the match.
“He just said to go out there -- his word is ‘killer.' I think that's the only word he knows in English,” said Granada.
Or, to describe Granada's game this week, another one comes to mind thanks to Rosa. None other than “Super!”
The U.S. Girls' Junior is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.