U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Daily Digest: Following Formula, Seong Seeks History July 22, 2016 | Paramus, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey and Ron Driscoll, USGA

Eun Jeong Seong looks to fellow Korean golfers such as Inbee Park and Se Ri Pak for inspiration as she builds her golf career. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

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Eun Jeong Seong might not know the deep history of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, or that she is poised to duplicate the feat of Hall-of-Fame players, but she knows she is on the cusp of doing something special.

The defending champion from the Republic of Korea closed out her semifinal match on Friday afternoon, 4 and 3, over Yujeong Son, also of the Republic of Korea, a day that featured temperatures in the mid-90s and afternoon winds at The Ridgewood Country Club.

“I tried hard last year and won, so I will try again tomorrow,” said Seong, 16, who after her match walked to the 18th green, where she congratulated the other finalist, Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif. “I am enjoying this year more.”

Seong was not aware that the last competitor to play in consecutive finals was soon-to-be LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park, who played for the title in 2002 and 2003. Park won in 2002, lost the 2003 championship to Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff after leading 5 up through eight holes, then lost in her third championship final to I.K. Kim in 2005.

Other Girls’ Junior champions who earned the chance to win in back-to-back title matches were: Barbara McIntire (1951-52), who lost both; JoAnne Gunderson Carner (1955-56), who lost and then won; Judy Eller (1957-58), who won both; and Peggy Conley (1963-64) who lost and then won. Another Hall-of-Fame player, Nancy Lopez, won in 1972 and 1974, and was the medalist in 1973, but lost in the second round.

Hollis Stacy, a member of the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame, is the only U.S. Girls’ Junior finalist who won all three titles in three attempts, from 1969-71. When told about Stacy’s three-peat, a tired Seong smiled.

“Next year, I can play this tournament again, but I have to win tomorrow before I think about three times,” she said.

In spite of her fitness, the player who has won 11 consecutive matches in U.S. Girls’ Junior competition admitted she struggled during the semifinal round.

“Today was very hard and my energy was so low,” said Seong, No. 25 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “I’m tired. I ate a banana on the course and drank a lot.”

Seong hopes to follow Park’s example and compete in USGA championships throughout her amateur career.

Seong failed to advance into match play in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur, her first USGA event. She posted a quarterfinal finish in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur, a runner-up finish in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, and finally broke through to win the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior.

“Inbee Park will be in the LPGA Hall of Fame and she took these steps in amateur golf,” noted Seong, who has won three junior tournaments in Korea this summer.

“Inbee played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior, the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Open,” added Seong. “I have never played in the Open, but I will try next year.”

Seong says she has had excellent role models from her homeland to show her the way in women’s golf.

“If we don’t have Se Ri Pak, I would not play golf, and Inbee Park followed Se Ri,” she said. “Se Ri Pak took different steps, so I will follow Inbee. What they did was very important.”

When asked about her thoughts leading into Saturday’s championship final, Seong said she plans to get some rest Friday night. She also will try to approach the championship the same way she did last year.

“I believe in me and I trust in [myself] on every shot,” she said. “Because of that, I can win matches.”

“And in the final on Saturday, I will play my friend,” said Seong of Andrea Lee. “I will enjoy tomorrow.”
 

Resolute Lee Reaches First USGA Final

Andrea Lee is No. 55 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, and she was a member of the USA Curtis Cup Team that competed in Ireland last month. She made the cut in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, and won the Rolex Tournament of Champions that same year. And on Saturday, she will play in her first USGA championship match.

“It means the world to me,” said Lee, 17, after she birdied the final two holes of her semifinal match against co-medalist and No. 1 seed Hye-Jin Choi for a 1-up victory. “I’ve been let down the past few years. I’ve been a quarterfinalist in this event the last two years, a semifinalist in the Women’s Amateur a couple of years ago… It just really means a lot to me to finally be able to make it to a final.”

Lee, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., had not played past the 16th hole in any of her previous four matches this week, but when she walked to the tee on the par-5 17th, she was in trouble, having lost No. 15 to a birdie and No. 16 to a par to go 1 down.

Lee converted a delicate up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 17th, holing a 17-foot, downhill putt, and came to No. 18 all square. She hit her tee shot on the 371-yard hole into the left rough, but then played a 9-iron from 140 yards to within 6 feet for the winning birdie after Choi missed her birdie try.

That set up a rematch with Lee’s good friend and defending champion Eun Jeong Seong.

“I met her at the [2014] U.S. Women’s Amateur, and we actually played each other in the quarterfinals,” said Lee, who will enroll at Stanford University in the fall. “I beat her that day, but you never know what can happen. We’ve kept in touch and I’ve played a few rounds with her back in LA. It’s going to be really fun.”

Lee’s 2-and-1 win over Seong in 2014 at Nassau Country Club put her into the semifinals, where she lost, 4 and 3, to eventual champion Kristen Gillman. That was Lee’s best match-play advancement in a USGA event before Friday. She lost in the previous two Girls’ Juniors in the quarterfinals, both by 1-up scores (Angel Yin in 2015, Marijosse Navarro in 2014).

“I played the least I have lately coming into this event,” said Lee, who graduated from Mira Costa High School in late June. “The Curtis Cup [June 11-12] was my most recent event, and after that amazing time in Ireland with my team, I came in here not having high expectations.”

Those lowered expectations have already produced her highest finish.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites. Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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