U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Kyriacou Comes From Down Under to Reach Final 16 at Poppy Hills July 19, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Tom Mackin

Stephanie Kyriacou, of Sydney, is a step closer to becoming the second Australian to claim the U.S. Girls' Junior title. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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Only one Australian has claimed the title in the 70-year history of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship: Minjee Lee, of Perth, in 2012 at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif.

This week, 17-year-old Stephanie Kyriacou, of Sydney, is trying to match that feat two hours down the Pacific Coast at Poppy Hills Golf Course.

She moved one step closer on Thursday, defeating Ivy Shepherd, 18, of Peachtree City, Ga., 2 and 1, to advance to the Round of 16, where she faces Alexa Pano, of Lake Worth, Fla.

After being 2 down through eight holes, Kyriacou won the ninth hole with a birdie before taking the lead for good on the 13th. She sealed the win on the par-3 17th, hitting 9-iron to 7 feet and sinking the birdie putt.

“It was a pretty tight match,” she said. “We both played average and pars won a few holes. I just tried to stay patient and let the putts roll in after they weren’t doing that at the start of the round.”

Kyriacou defeated Dana Williams, 17, of Boca Raton, Fla., 3 and 1, in the Round of 64 after shooting 4-over 146 in stroke play to finish tied for 28th.

The Australian qualified for the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo., but did not advance to match play.

“Last year was my first overseas event and I was really nervous,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. This year, I had high expectations and knew what I was going up against, so I prepared a bit better. My goal this year was to make match play, which I’m stoked about doing.”

Kyriacou arrived in the U.S. three weeks ago, attending an annual camp sponsored by Golf Australia (the country’s governing body for golf) at The Woodlands Country Club in Houston, Texas.

Last week, she tied for 12th in the IMG Academy Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines’ North Course in San Diego, Calif. Fellow Australian Doey Choi finished fifth there and also advanced to the Round of 16.

“It took me a couple of days to get used to the time difference (Sydney is 17 hours ahead of California) but my body has adjusted now,” said Kyriacou. “I’m starting to wear out a little now, but I’ll just keep fueling up and I’ll be right.”

Her golf season at home runs from late November through May, with many Aussies then traveling to the U.S. to play summer tournaments.

“It’s awesome playing over here,” she said. “It’s like a whole new experience with different courses and different grasses. It’s fun.”

Kyriacou, who qualified for the Girls’ Junior last month in a playoff at Wailua Golf Course on Kauai in Hawaii, finds inspiration from the careers of fellow Australians Lee (whose brother, Min Woo Lee, won the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur) and Karrie Webb, winner of the U.S. Women’s Open in 2000 and 2001.

“Karrie’s the big one, sort of all the girls back home look up to her. But Minjee is playing really well right now and she’s a good role model,” said Kyriacou.

No matter her result this week, Kyriacou will be back at Our Lady of Sacred Heart School in Sydney on Monday and tackling exams as she completes her senior year.

“I’ve been trying to get some studying done, but with all the fog delays here, that’s not really happening,” she said.

Her post-school plans remain up in the air.

“I haven’t committed to a college, but our Golf Australia program is really good,” she said. “Their funding and support is awesome. Most people go through that program and turn professional. But I’m not sure yet what I will do.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.