Expect the unexpected is what we hold true in match play.
When Kyung Kim arrived at the 36th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, she was just hopeful of getting past the second round of match play — the furthest she had ever advanced in five previous USGA match play championships. Also, she did not view herself as that strong of a player in this format.
As the week played out at Neshanic Valley Golf Course, though, Kim’s name kept advancing through the championship bracket until late Saturday afternoon when she defeated Ashlan Ramsey, 4 and 2, in the scheduled 36-hole final.
With a field that included four Curtis Cup players, a former WAPL champion and the reigning NCAA Division I Women’s champion, it was easy to understand how Kim could be overlooked. That has now changed.
"It means a lot to me," said Kim, 18, of Chandler, Ariz. "It’s like I finally did it, won a national championship. It’s pretty amazing, my hard work paid off."
That jibberish about not being strong in match play?
"I just realized that I can," said Kim. "I played this week like I can, and if I do that in match play championships, I’ll be OK."
In the 34-hole match against Ramsey, Kim was 1 down for all of three holes, that being on the first nine of the morning round. In her final five matches of this championship (102 holes), she trailed just five holes and was all square on 16 others.
Essentially Kim, an incoming freshman at the University of Southern California, was in control of her game and her opponents. Though Kim did not feel at ease until the second nine of Saturday’s afternoon round, "I was just up the whole time, so I just felt like, ‘OK, if I can keep steady and make pars and birdies …’"
The birdies came in flocks.
Given the usual concessions of match play, Kim and Ramsey combined for 18 birdies — two shy of the record for any USGA Championship final — and Kim shot the equivalent of six under for 34 holes.
"I have been hitting the ball really well and putting not so bad, too," said Kim, who will play in next month's U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run. "I guess I’m just reading the greens better and some putts went in."
There was not a lot of ebb and flow to this championship.
Ramsey, 16, of Milledgeville, Ga., clad in an American flag-designed skort that has become her final round signature, arrived at the course 15 minutes later than intended and admitted to being rushed prior to stepping on the first tee.
Ramsey missed the first three greens and made three successive bogeys. Yet she was only 1 down, as Kim lipped out par putts to win the first and third holes.
"So it took me three holes, I guess, to find my game and get settled in and not be nervous and just play how I had been playing," said Ramsey, who shot the stroke-play equivalent of 3-under in the final.
Ramsey atoned for the start with birdies at the par-3 sixth to square the match and par-4 seventh to take her only 1-up lead. Starting with the par-5 ninth, the match began to swing back in Kim’s favor.
"I was kind of expecting her to make a lot of birdies because I knew she had earlier in the week," Ramsey said. "She made some really good putts."
More like long distance phone calls. Kim made successive birdie putts of 30, 45 and 25 feet on hole Nos. 9-11. Those made her 5-footer for birdie on the 12th hole look quite simple.
By that point, Kim had wrestled the lead back and was 2 up. Kim went into the break 1-up, but then was 2 up after Ramsey bogeyed the par-4 first hole for the second time of the day.
Twice Ramsey cut into the 2-down deficit — making birdies on the par-3 24th and par-4 28th holes — in the afternoon round, but could never get the match back to all square.
Ramsey has committed to Clemson University and will be part of the Tigers’ first women’s golf team in Fall 2013, so hers is a name that should be expected to contend in future USGA championships.
Sounding like a seasoned player, Ramsey said she takes away confidence more than anything from this championship.
"Not in terms of how I’m capable of playing," Ramsey said when asked if she exceeded expectations. "I knew I could make some birdies, and I wanted to try and limit my mistakes more than I have in the past few tournaments."
But it was definitely a confidence boost to make it to the finals and beat some really good players that I beat this week.
There was just one who was slightly better.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA championship websites.