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Seong Holds Off Carta to Earn Historic USGA Double

By David Shefter, USGA

| Aug 7, 2016 | Springfield, Pa.

Eun Jeong Seong received the spoils of victory after holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 36th hole to seal a 1-up win on Sunday. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

Eun Jeong Seong can officially introduce Robert Cox to Glenna Collett Vare.

For the first time, the longstanding USGA trophies bearing the names of these two individuals will simultaneously be in the possession of one golfer.

Seong, 16, of the Republic of Korea, dramatically holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole to outduel Virginia Elena Carta, 1 up, in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match to win the 116th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at the 6,297-yard, par-71 Rolling Green Golf Club.

Seong is the first to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy (Women’s Amateur) and Glenna Collett Vare Trophy (U.S. Girls’ Junior) in the same season and the third female to win multiple USGA championships in the same year, joining Pearl Sinn (1988 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Jennifer Song (2009 WAPL and Women’s Amateur).

On July 23, Seong became the first player in 45 years to successfully defend her U.S. Girls’ Junior title with a 3-and-2 win over Andrea Lee at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J. Seong is the youngest player in history to have appeared in four USGA championship finals, with her lone loss coming in 2014 to Fumie (Alice) Jo in the final contested WAPL.

Entering Sunday, three players had won the U.S. Girls’ Junior and reached the Women’s Amateur final in the same year, but each had come up short.

“I can't believe today,” said an elated Seong. “But today is different feeling because I made history. That's why I feel so amazing.”

The 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, conducted by the United States Golf Association, is open to female amateur golfers with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 5.4. It consists of two 18-hole rounds of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, including Sunday’s 36-hole final.

Carta, who won the NCAA Division I individual title in May by a record eight strokes as a Duke University freshman, was bidding to become just the second golfer to claim the NCAA and Women’s Amateur titles in the same year, joining Vicki Goetze (1992). 

Late in the afternoon 18 of the final, it appeared that Carta might not be able to finish the match. On the par-5 25th green, she began to feel dizzy, but the issue didn’t manifest itself until the 30th hole. Roberto Zappa, her caddie, asked his player about seeking medical help, but Carta kept playing until she won the 31st hole with a par to trim Seong’s lead to 1 up.

At that point, medical personnel took Carta under a nearby tree, asking several questions about what she had eaten or drank the past few days. All day, Carta had consumed water and her customary caffeinated soft drink at the turn, as well as bananas, protein bars and nuts.

Carta had not experienced such an occurrence since she was “10 or 11” when she passed out on the last hole of a junior tournament in Italy, yet still managed to finish the competition. But the thought of not being able to complete the match crossed her mind as her heart rate “went crazy insane” and she struggled to breathe properly.

The Rules of Golf permit one break for a medical situation and referee Stasia Collins notified both competitors of the situation. Fifteen minutes later, Carta returned to the tee on the par-3 32nd hole, looking a little peaked.

She didn’t take a practice swing before hitting her tee shot into the right greenside bunker. Seong also found a bunker, but managed to get up and down for par to regain her 2-up lead.

“I mean, I was not feeling good at all,” said Carta. “I was like shaking, and that was not a good feeling. But at the same time, as I said, because of my personality, I knew if I wanted, I could have arrived until the end, like maybe losing 3 and 2, but still playing every single shot and giving my best every single shot.”

Carta, who halved holes 15 and 16, did not give up or give in. Showing the grit and determination she had the entire championship, Carta rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-5 35th hole. When Seong power-lipped her 10-footer to win the match, the two marched to the 36th hole, which played as a 433-yard par 4 for the afternoon round. The hole played as a par 5, measuring 480 yards during the morning 18, and for most of the championship.

Hitting first from the fairway, Carta’s approach landed 25 feet above and to the right of the flagstick, while Seong’s second barely cleared the false front. Carta, however, would never strike another shot. Nervous and aware of her possible place in history, Seong coolly converted her 40-foot birdie attempt, setting off roaring applause from the approximately 500 spectators around the green and a dousing of water from four U.S. Women’s Amateur competitors: quarterfinalist Hannah Green, of Australia; compatriot Karis Davidson; semifinalist Yuka Saso, of the Philippines; and good friend Binny Lee.

“Yeah, [my hands were] shaking,” said Seong of her mindset on the final green. I'm 1 up, and if I lose this hole, I can go to playoff. I just think, please two-putt, please two-putt. But I made it. I'm surprised.”

During the morning 18, Carta took as much as a 2-up lead before Seong made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 to square the match. She grabbed a 1-up lead with another birdie on the par-5 17th before pushing her drive on 18 into the trees. Seong wound up three-putting for bogey and then conceded Carta’s short birdie putt to go into the lunch break all square.

Seong came out of the break and birdied the 19th hole for a 1-up lead. Carta would eventually square the match on the 24th hole, but the match turned on the par-5 25th when Carta got too frisky with her eagle putt, and the ball trickled off the green. Instead of winning or at least halving the hole, Carta eventually conceded Seong’s short birdie putt to go 1 down. Although Carta would trail the rest of the match, she had a chance to square things on the par-3 28th, but three-putted for bogey, missing a 6-footer for par to win the hole.

Both the winner and runner-up are exempt into the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., with Seong receiving a 10-year U.S. Women’s Amateur exemption and Carta a three-year exemption. Seong also is likely to be invited to three other professional women’s major championships: the 2016 Evian Championship, and the 2017 ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open.

Seong had tried five times unsuccessfully to qualify for the Women's Open. Now she'll have a starting time the first two rounds with reigning champion Brittany Lang and Women's British Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn. On Saturday afternoon, Carta was stunned to learn she had earned a spot in the Women's Open by being a finalist. 

“It’s unbelievable,” said Carta of being exempt into the U.S. Women’s Open. “I was super excited after winning nationals because I got the opportunity to play in Ohio at the [LPGA’s] Marathon Classic, and that was great for me. I learned so much from all the players there. I think having the opportunity, especially to play in the U.S. Open, that's going to be exciting.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at