U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
U.S. Girls' Junior Round 1: Five Things to Know July 15, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By David Shefter, USGA

Two-time U.S. Women's Open qualifier Lucy Li is one of 16 past Drive, Chip & Putt finalists in the field at Poppy Hills. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

Poppy Hills Golf Course is set to host its first USGA championship, but it won’t be the first time the Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout has enjoyed the national spotlight. From 1991-2009, Poppy Hills was part of the three-course rotation for the PGA Tour’s annual AT&T National Pro-Am, formerly known as The Crosby. And from 2014-16, the facility was the co-host of the PGA Tour Champions’ Nature Valley First Tee Open.

Owned and operated by the Northern California Golf Association, Poppy Hills also has been used for some of the association’s biggest competitions.

This week, however, the best female golfers under the age of 19 will get to experience this challenging course, which was renovated four years ago by RTJ II Architects. It also joins BanBury Golf Course in Eagle, Idaho, as the only public, daily-fee courses to host the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

Here are five other things about the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior as the 156 players prepare for the first of two rounds of stroke play.

Defending the Crown

Only three previous competitors in the 69 years of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship have managed to win consecutive titles. Erica Shepherd, 17, of Greenwood, Ind., has a chance to join Judy Eller (1958-59), World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Hollis Stacy (1969-71) and current Symetra Tour player Eun Jeong Seong (2015-16) this week. If the left-handed Shepherd can achieve the feat, she’d also be the fifth multiple champion. Nancy Lopez won in 1972 and 1974, but was eliminated in the Round of 16 in 1973 after being the medalist.

Sweet Sixteen

The Drive, Chip & Putt Championship was created by the USGA, The PGA of America and the Masters Tournament as a grow-the-game initiative to make golf more fun and inclusive. But a byproduct of this annual competition that is held each April at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club has been a new generation of talented players, especially females. In late April, 11 past DCP age-group finalists competed in the 4th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif.

This week, 16 past finalists will compete in the U.S. Girls’ Junior, including inaugural 10-11 age-group champion Lucy Li, 15, of Redwood Shores, Calif., who helped the USA reclaim the Curtis Cup last month at Quaker Ridge Golf Club. Not long after winning her DCP title, Li became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history. Natalie Pietromonaco (2014), of Auburn, Calif.; Savannah Grewal (2017), of Canada; Alexa Pano (2016, 2017), of Lake Worth, Fla.; and Katherine Schuster (2018), of Kill Devil Hills, N.C.; are also past DCP champions in the field.

The remaining 12 finalists in the field are Ashley Menne (2014), Gina Kim (2015), Abbey Daniel (2015), Ashley Gilliam (2015), Christine Shao (2015), Christine Wang (2014-2015), Megha Ganne (2015, 2017, 2018), Sophie Guo (2016), Sophia Burnett (2016), Nicole Adam (2016) and Avery Zweig (2017-2018).   

Prying Eyes

Each year, a plethora of college coaches – more than 80 are expected in 2018 – flock to the U.S. Girls’ Junior looking for the next wave of talent. While many competitors in this year’s field have already signed or committed to a school, there are plenty of golfers who are hoping to be discovered. Last year, unheralded Elizabeth Moon parlayed her run to the semifinals into a scholarship to the University of Central Florida. Perhaps there is another diamond – or two – in the rough – err fairway – this week at Poppy Hills.

Golden Child(ren)

It should come as no surprise that more than one-fifth (34) of the 156-player field is comprised of Californians. The Golden State has enjoyed unparalleled success in this championship with 23 of the past 69 winners hailing from the country’s most populous state.

And in the six previous U.S. Girls’ Juniors contested in California, a Californian has either won (four) or been the runner-up. That list includes World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Mickey Wright (1952), Pilar Dorado (1967), six-time LPGA Tour winner Pat Hurst (1986) and Kellee Booth (1993). Liana Zambresky, of Pebble Beach, lost in the 1967 final to New York resident Elizabeth Story, and Alison Lee, of Valencia, fell to future four-time LPGA Tour winner Minjee Lee, of Australia, in 2012 at Lake Merced.

The last Californian to win the championship was Gabriella Then in 2013 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Sister Knows Best

Because parents/guardians are forbidden from serving as caddies at the two USGA Junior Championships, friends, siblings, club caddies and swing coaches often are utilized. Caris Kim, of Los Altos, Calif., didn’t need to look too far for some experienced guidance. Older sister Lauren, a former Stanford University standout who helped the Cardinal win the 2015 NCAA title, is no stranger to the big stage, having advanced to the Round of 16 in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Kim, currently 14th on the Symetra Tour’s money list, is taking a brief hiatus from the LPGA Tour’s developmental circuit to caddie for her younger sister, who is making her USGA championship debut. Lauren flew to Northern California on Friday night from Toledo, Ohio, after missing the cut in this past weekend’s Marathon Classic on the LPGA Tour.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.