U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Thursday: 5 Things to Watch July 27, 2017 | AUGUSTA, Mo. By Lisa Mickey and Ron Driscoll, USGA

Karah Sanford is taking on a fellow player from the San Diego area in the Round of 32. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

Here are five themes to follow for the Round of 32 and the Round of 16 in the 69th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Thursday at Boone Valley Golf Club.

Experience Matters:  Of the 32 players who survived into the second round, 21 of them are ages 16 through 18. In fact, this is the first year that 18-year-olds are eligible to compete, after the age requirements were changed by the USGA.

Among those who got an extra opportunity is Mika Liu, 18, who is playing in her record-tying seventh Girls’ Junior. Liu, of Beverly Hills, Calif., squared off in the Round of 32 against Haylin Harris, of Carmel, Ind. In her six previous starts, Liu’s best finish is the quarterfinals in 2015. An incoming freshman at Stanford University, Liu defeated Jayna Choi, 4 and 2, in Wednesday’s Round of 64.

Haley Moore, 18, is another college player who received a “bonus” opportunity this year. Moore, of Escondido, Calif., plays at the University of Arizona. And while 18 is still considered young in most settings, Liu feels like the elder statesman this week at Boone Valley.

"When I play amateur events, all I see is college kids, and now I come to U.S. Girls’ Junior and all I see is teenagers," said Liu, who has competed in 12 USGA championships and teamed with Rinko Mitsunaga to win the 2015 U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball.

"I would call them the younger generation because they all know each other," said Liu, who might be the only player in the field who reads the Wall Street Journal daily and manages her own stock and investment porfolio. "I feel like a very old person."

Young Blood: On the other end of the spectrum, the only two 12-year-olds in the field – both from Florida – qualified for match play and won their opening matches on Wednesday.

Izzy Pellot, of Altamonte Springs, and Alexa Pano, of Lake Worth, were born nine days apart and are well under the average age for the 156-player starting field of 16.2. Yet here they are, after Pellot won, 3 and 1, Wednesday over Caroline Hodge of Larchmont, N.Y., and Pano outlasted Leila Dizon of Los Angeles, Calif., 2 up.

Pellot is playing in her second USGA championship and first Girls’ Junior. Pano will compete in her second U.S. Women’s Amateur in August, which will be her third USGA event overall. Pano is also a Drive, Chip & Putt national champion.

At 5-foot-8½, Pano estimates that she has "probably grown about 7 inches" since last year. And despite her youth, she sees herself "as any other competitor here," noting that she is as tall as most of them, if not taller.

"Maybe some of the other girls think of it differently, but ... I've been playing golf the same [time], maybe longer than most of them, so I consider myself the same level as them," said Pano. "Hopefully I can prove it by winning this week."

Where Matches Are Won and Lost: Ask someone who knows – Bryan McMurray, the general manager at Boone Valley – and he will tell you that the P.B. Dye design is an intriguing match-play course.

“We play quite a bit of match play here as a club, and it’s amazing how often someone can be 3 or  4 up at the turn and end up losing,” said McMurray, who has been at Boone Valley for six years. “They usually lose it in the stretch of holes from 13 through 16. There are birdie opportunities on 14 and 15, and par is almost like a birdie on 16.”

The 14th is a par 5 that is listed at 473 yards for the championship, although the yardage does fluctuate in the daily course setup. The 15th is a 333-yard par 4, and the 16th is a demanding, 175-yard par 3.

“No. 16 is a huge swing hole, not just because it’s late in the match, but it’s also a long par 3 with a big green. Someone can have a lead on the back, and all of a sudden it steamrolls on them.”

Golden State is Dominant, for Now: One quarter of the Round of 32 match-play bracket is from California – eight players. However, a few are guaranteed to depart the premises on Thursday, because of the matchups.

Four players from Southern California are facing each other in the Round of 32. Karah Sanford, of Escondido, is taking on Calista Reyes, of San Diego, and a pair of San Diegans are squaring off: Brianna Navarrosa and Brooke Seay.

Florida has the next-highest total with four, and Arizona and Indiana have two players each among the 32 remaining. Internationally, Chinese Taipei had three players, followed by the Republic of Korea and Canada, each with two. 

Finishing Touch: The 18th hole at Boone Valley is nicknamed “Waterloo” for obvious reasons. The approach shot on the 385-yard par 4 plays over a pond to an enormous green, and the hole played as the toughest in the stroke-play rounds for the U.S. Girls’ Junior, at a stroke average of 4.56 with 54 scores of double bogey or worse, and only 19 birdies.

There were also 75 bogeys on the hole, and that certainly had something to do with the green, which is enormous. McMurray estimated that it is 23,000 square feet and 78 yards long. The front of the green juts into the lake, and it runs away from the fairway on the right side. Although the right side of the massive green presents a much longer approach shot, McMurray says that the most difficult hole location is on the left side.

“Safety is great if you get it on the green over the water, but you could be 40 yards away from the hole,” said McMurray. “And when the hole is on the left side, it is a small target. If you go over the green, it’s a very difficult up and down.”

More from the 69th U.S. Girls' Junior

More from the USGA