Village of Pinehurst, N.C. – As she watched the scores trickle late Tuesday afternoon, Doris Chen started to feel a bit uneasy.
Would she be in or out?
A 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior semifinalist, Chen wasn’t quite ready to leave the steamy confines of The Country Club of North Carolina.
Chen had struggled during the stroke-play qualifying portion of the 62nd U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, shooting 79-77 without a single birdie.
I feel like I was riding a rollercoaster, said the 17-year-old Chen, who was born in New York, but owns dual citizenship between the United States and Chinese Taipei. I was saying please just make it. And I’m so happy.
Fortunately, the cutline came at 157, sparring Chen from the playoff for the final spots.
Given new life and another opportunity to play the Dogwood Course, the Bradenton, Fla., resident – she attends the Pendleton School – has epitomized what can happen in match play.
Playing as the No. 57 seed, Chen has managed four consecutive victories, including a gut-wrenching 1-up decision Friday morning over stroke-play medalist Danielle Kang of Thousand Oaks, Calif.
But even after disposing one of the championship’s hottest golfers, Chen walked off the par-5 18th hole looking as if she lost. She would fit quite well at the poker table.
It comes from my first coaches, said Chen, who has verbally committed to attend
the University of Southern
Medalist Danielle Kang was impressed with how methodical and steady
Doris Chen performed in Friday's quarterfinal match. (John Mummert/USGA)
That inner calm suited Chen well early against Kang. Twice she missed birdie putts inside 6 feet. And yet there was no emotion. Not one shrug of the shoulder or primal scream.
She doesn’t make a mistake, said the 17-year-old Kang, who made the cut at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. She’s just very impressive.
Chen also is leaning on her experience from last year at Trump National Golf Club, where she fell to the hot putter of Kimberly Kim in the semifinals. She’s also gained a little more strength over the last year, forcing a switch from graphite to steel shafts in her irons.
I just play my game, said Chen. If I lose one hole, I just don’t care. Last year, I played well, but I j ust didn’t drop any putts. And Kimberly made everything. There’s really not that much more difference from last year. Just more experience.
That maturity paid off down the stretch as Kang tried to push the match to extra holes. She holed a 15-footer for birdie at 17, only to see Chen match from just inside her. At the par-5 18th, Chen coolly laid up to a comfortable yardage for her third shot. Her approach stopped 30 feet short of the flagstick, while Kang reached a bunker 20 yards short of the green in two. Chen comfortably lagged her birdie attempt to a foot, forcing Kang to hole her 25-footer, which came up short and to the left.
The two players hugged and Chen stoically walked off.
It’s a familiar position. Korean Gyeol Park awaits her in Friday afternoon’s semifinals, with the victor advancing to the 36-hole championship match on Saturday.
On July 13 at The Wanderers Club in Wellington, Fla., Chen shot a 73 in a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier. Amazingly, it was one stroke short of making the field. On that day, the scoreboard was not kind.
But if she beats Park, she won’t need to worry about playing the Women’s Amateur in two weeks at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club.
With the Girls’ Junior finalists exempt into the field, a victory assures her a spot.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments firstname.lastname@example.org.