U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
U.S. Girls' Junior: Five Key Players July 17, 2016 | Paramus, N.J. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Hye-Jin Choi is just two weeks removed from her low-amateur performance in the U.S. Women's Open. (USGA/JD Cuban)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

With 156 players from 32 states and 12 countries set to tee it up starting Monday at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., here is a look at some of the players to keep an eye on in the 68th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship:

Eun Jeong Seong: It is far from a given to have the reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion in the field – only five of the last 10 have attempted to defend their titles. Of those who did return the following year, none got back to the championship match, with semifinal performances by Jenny Shin in 2007 and Ariya Jutanugarn in 2012 being the best showings by a defending champion in the last decade. Hollis Stacy, who won three times in a row from 1969-71, is the last player to defend her title, and Seong would be just third player to achieve the feat.

The odds may be against her, but Seong, of Korea, has provided some compelling evidence that her run at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club in 2015, which culminated in a 3-and-2 victory over Angel Yin, was not a fluke. Seong was the stroke-play medalist and runner-up in the final edition of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2014, breaking the 36-hole stroke-play scoring record held by Jutanugarn and 2016 U.S. Women’s Open champion Brittany Lang. Since her Girls’ Junior win, Seong advanced to the Round of 32 in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur and made the cut in her first start in an LPGA event, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Lucy Li: Remember her? Li, 13, captured the attention of the golf world, and beyond, two years ago when, as an 11-year-old, she became the youngest player in history to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. What was rarely talked about at Pinehurst No. 2 is that making that kind of history was nothing new for the Redwood Shores, Calif., resident. In 2013, as a 10-year-old, she broke Michelle Wie’s record as the youngest player to advance to match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, and a month later, became the youngest U.S. Women’s Amateur competitor ever.

As the third-youngest competitor in the 156-player field, Li will still be competing mostly with her elders, but with her experience over the last three years, she’s ready to show that for her, age is just a number at this point. In five USGA amateur championships, she has advanced to match play four times, including a run to the Round of 32 in her Girls’ Junior debut last year.

Mika Liu: Liu, of Beverly Hills, Calif., has become well-known as a team competitor. The 17-year-old was a member of the USA Curtis Cup Team in June and, along with partner Rinko Mitsunaga, captured the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title in 2015 at Bandon (Ore.) Dunes Golf Resort. She was also a part of the USA squad that was victorious in the 2014 World Junior Girls Championship, winning the individual championship. Liu, who will be competing in her sixth Girls’ Junior, the most of anyone in the field, was a quarterfinalist in last year’s Girls’ Junior, as well as the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Hailee Cooper: Cooper joins Seong and Liu as one of the three USGA champions in the field. The 16-year-old from Montgomery, Texas, is the only one to have already claimed a national championship this year. Cooper and partner Kaitlyn Papp were victorious in the 2nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in May, topping Angelina Kim and Brianna Navarrosa in 19 holes in the championship match at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort. The three-time Rolex Junior All-American will be making her third start in the Girls’ Junior. She advanced to the Round of 32 in 2014 and the Round of 64 last year.

Hye-Jin Choi: Choi, of Korea, has already shown this month what she is capable of on the world stage. The 16-year-old finished tied for 38th in the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle to earn low-amateur honors. She also got an up-close look at what it takes to play your way into contention in a major championship, as she was grouped with eventual champion Brittany Lang as Lang was shooting 68 in Round 3. Choi is currently 15th in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, and while she will be making her USGA amateur championship debut at Ridgewood, she made the cut in a pair of LPGA events in 2016, and has contended in a handful of professional events in her home country.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

68th U.S. Girls' Junior

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