Jim Liu, of Smithtown, N.Y., became the youngest champion in the history of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship with his 4-and-2 victory over Justin Thomas, of Goshen, Ky., in Saturday’s final match held at Egypt Valley Country Club.
The 14-year-old Liu, who was born on Aug. 9, 1995, broke by more than seven months the previous championship record held by Tiger Woods, who was 15 years, 6 months and 28 days old when he won the 1991 championship.
"It is an honor to be just a part of the list of champions," Liu said. "But to break Tiger's record is just a big plus. I have never thought I would do it, but it just happened to be my year this year."
It certainly was Liu's week on the hilly Egypt Valley course. After he quietly made his way through the stroke-play cut, Liu went on a tear through the match-play bracket, with only two of his matches going the full 18 holes.
"The first two rounds I either hit the ball good or I putted well," Liu said. "I just didn't do it in the same round. After stroke play, I started to do it in the same round. I think that's just a matter of time and luck."
Saturday’s final was no different, though the morning rain did dampen Liu’s start. After play was delayed 30 minutes due to the overnight rain that had soaked the Egypt Valley course, Thomas opened the morning’s portion of the match by quickly building a 2-up lead through the first three holes. Liu was able to stay close to Thomas through the constant rain, tallying his first birdie of the championship match on the fourth hole, and eventually was able to square the match with a birdie on the par-3 eighth hole – a birdie that was quite nearly an ace.
Liu started the back nine of the morning round with another birdie and never looked back from there. He shot the equivalent of 8 under par (with the usual match-play concessions) for the morning round, and then cruised through the afternoon round, shooting the equivalent of 1 under par, and ultimately closed the match out on the 34th hole.
While Thomas did not take home the victory, he did not roll over for the steamrolling Liu. Thomas parried Liu's first-round 8 under with a 5 under of his own. However, his struggles with the putter proved to be his downfall.
"I played well enough to win, but it was just a couple putts here and there," Thomas said. "There's not many times you shoot 5 under in your first 18 and you’re 3 down. It was fun, but it's unfortunate to lose. "
Thomas, who affectionately refers to Liu as Slim Jim, was able to pare his opponent’s lead down to one hole on two occasions on the afternoon’s second nine, the last occurring after he birdied the 31st hole. However, Liu quickly pushed back and won the next three holes to wrap up the match.
"This being my only year, it was unfortunate to get to the finals and not get it done, but I didn't lose it, I got beat," Thomas said. "I can't be upset about that. It's upsetting that I didn't win, but it's not upsetting that I didn't lose it. I just got beat. He played great golf and deserves it."
With their appearances in the final match, Liu and Thomas both received exemptions into the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship, being held August 23-29 at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
The U.S. Junior Amateur, established in 1948 for male golfers under the age of 18, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Story written by Christina Lance, coordinator of championship communications for the USGA.
Ada, Mich. – Result of Saturday’s championship final match at the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, played at the 7,111-yard, par-72 Egypt Valley Country Club:
Jim Liu, Smithtown, N.Y. (144) def. Justin Thomas, Goshen, Ky. (136), 4 and 2