At 14, Kimberly Kim of Hilo, Hawaii, became the youngest champion in the 111-year history of the United States Women’s Amateur Championship when she defeated Katharina Schallenberg, 26, of Germany, 1 up, at the 6,380-yard, par-71 Witch Hollow Course of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club Sunday.
Kim is the youngest winner since Laura Baugh, who was 16 years and two months old when she won in 1971.
Kim rallied from being five holes down after the 15th hole of the 36-hole match. She did not take the lead until the 30th hole. The match ended on the 36th. On the final hole, after Schallenberg made a 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe, Kim ran in a 5-foot birdie putt to win.
“I was shaking so much,” said Kim of the putt. “I don’t even know where I aimed or anything. I just, like, hit it. It’s like, whatever, just hit the ball.”
In a match long on thrills, Schallenberg took an immediate 1-up lead with a birdie on the first hole. She won the fourth hole with a birdie, the fifth with a par and the sixth with a birdie before Kim claimed a single hole.
Kim was five holes down when she hit her approach shot to within 6 feet of the hole on the 16th and birdied to win the hole. She hit superb approach shots on the closing holes, making a 2-footer for a winning birdie on the 17th and a 4-foot winning birdie putt on the 18th. Schallenberg went to lunch with a 2-up lead.
Kim, who earlier this year was the runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, played somewhat tentatively in the morning 18. But she turned her game around and began firing at the flagsticks in the afternoon at the advice of her caddie, Frank Nau.
“Actually he just said we’re going to play smash-mouth golf,” Kim said.
Schallenberg watched her lead trickle away, beginning with the 22nd hole, which Kim won with a birdie.
“I just made a couple of mistakes, maybe, or the balls…could have bounced better, I guess,” said Schallenberg, who was trying to become the first German player to win a USGA title. “And we weren’t reading the greens as well as Kimberly and Frank did.”
Kim took her first lead in the match on the par-3 29th hole, where she made a 9-foot birdie putt after a superb 9-iron shot to the green. Kim had hit that same club into the water hazard on that hole four times during the week, including in the morning round.
“I was thinking, ‘Please, just go through the ball and get on the green,’” she said.
She won the 30th hole with a par after Schallenberg’s approach shot bounded through the green and into the fringe and she bogeyed. Kim was then 2 up.
Schallenberg came right back, winning the 31st with a par from the fringe. Kim failed to get up and down from 10 feet short of the green and was now 1 up.
The margin held when the players came to the par-4 35th hole. Schallenberg’s approach landed a foot from the hole and settled 8 feet above it. Kim’s tee shot landed in the fairway bunker but she then hit the shot of the match, flying a 7-iron from the sand to within 12 feet of the flagstick. Kim made her birdie putt. Schallenberg was forced to make her putt to keep the match alive, and she did so.
On the 36th hole, with a 1-up lead, Kim’s third shot to the par-5 was a chip. Schallenberg was some 40 yards short of the hole and her wedge shot came up about a foot short in the fringe. Kim pitched five feet past the hole.
Schallenberg managed to make the 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe.
“I just knew it was from right to left only a little bit, and I had pretty much the same thought, ‘Don’t leave it short,’ and it went in,” said Schallenberg.
Kim’s putt that won the championship, she said, wasn’t characteristic. “I was never really a clutch player, I guess,” she said. “But that was clutch.”