U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Gianchandani Goes For It, Continues to Exceed Goal July 28, 2017 | Augusta, Mo. By Lisa D. Mickey

Ami Gianchandani celebrates her 1-up victory on Thursday over No. 2 seed Paphangkorn Tavatanakit with caddie Paul Schneider. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

The tears came as soon as Ami Gianchandani spotted her father after her upset victory in Thursday’s Round of 16 of the 69th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

Seeded No. 50 for match play, Gianchandani defeated second-seeded Paphangkorn “Patty” Tavatanakit, 1 up, to move into Friday’s quarterfinal round, where she is matched up against Elizabeth Moon of Forrest City, Ark.

Gianchandani’s tears were a mixture of relief, joy and weariness after a day that included two matches and a win in a rainstorm against a player who many considered one of the strongest in the field.

“It was a lot of back and forth with me and Patty today,” said Gianchandani, 17, of Watchung, N.J. “She’s one of the best players in the country. I knew I had to play my best game to even keep up with her.”

It was actually Gianchandani who took an early lead in the match, going 2 up after the first three holes. As expected, Tavatanakit answered, winning holes 5 and 6 to square the match – which was squared 10 times over 16 holes before the players arrived on the 18th hole in heavy rain.

Gianchandani’s drive found a fairway bunker, while Tavatanakit’s drive landed 30 yards ahead in the fairway. Gianchandani pulled her 3-hybrid club for the 180-yard shot, knowing it was a risk she had to attempt.

“I was talking to my caddie and I said, I have to go for it,” she said. “It’s on this hole I’m going to win it or lose it.”

Still raining, with wind in her face, Gianchandani made solid contact with the ball and watched it sail over the green – which was, she said, “sort of” where she wanted it to land.

A chip later, both players were now on the green. Tavatanakit was the first to putt from 12 feet away. Her ball was tracking straight for the hole, but it hit the lip and spun out.

That left Gianchandani staring at her putt, knowing the match was over if she could just coax her ball into the hole one last time.

“My heart was beating out of my chest,” she admitted. “I was just standing there. My hands were shaking, but then I told myself to ‘calm down, it’s a 3-footer [and that I had] made this putt before and I can make it again. Keep your hands steady and just stroke it like you know you can.’”

Giachandani took a deep breath and made her stroke. The ball fell into the cup, moving her deeper into the championship than she has ever been and closer to what was once a very faraway dream of contending in this event.

“This is my third time playing in this championship and my first time making the cut,” she said. “That was my goal coming here.”

Gianchandani, a senior at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, N.J., has far surpassed that goal, as one of eight players in an all-North American quarterfinal bracket on Friday. Celeste Dao, of Canada, currently resides outside the United States. Calista Reyes was born in the Philippines, but moved to the U.S. when she was 5 years old.

Gianchandani is the only player left in the championship without a world ranking, but the teen has held her own in the Garden State for the last several years in amateur and junior golf. She was the 2015 New Jersey State Golf Association Junior Girls champion, a four-time New Jersey PGA Junior Player of the Year and a four-time NJPGA Girls All-State Team selection.

And while back home, you might find her smacking balls on a squash court or building high-tech toys on her school’s robotics team, this week, it’s all about golf. Gianchandani came to Missouri with a personal mission to lift her game to a higher level and on Thursday, that happened.

“I can’t believe I’m going to the Round of 8,” she said, wiping tears after her exhausting victory.

Believing, however, is achieving, and Giachandani has already achieved more than she ever imagined.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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