FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Megan Khang remembers being scared in her first U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, in 2009 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. At 11 years, 8 months and 28 days of age, Khang was the youngest player ever to qualify for the championship.
Khang, of Rockland, Mass., had never played on a national stage and was unsure of what to expect. She missed the cut, but learned valuable lessons about what it takes to compete against the world’s best junior players.
Today, Khang, 15, is a veteran of the event. This week at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Khang is making her fifth consecutive appearance, and in the championship's 65-year history, only 38 players have played in five or more.
"It's a huge event and I love playing in it," said Khang after her 2-and-1 victory over Alice Chen in the opening round of match play on Wednesday. "I just want to keep coming back. Even if I'm too old, I want to keep coming back … but I know I can't."
Unless the championship is moved off its traditional late-July date, Khang will be eligible for two more U.S. Girls' Juniors Championships before she turns 18, meaning she is on pace to tie Margot Morton's record of seven appearances.
Nine players have played in six or more championships. Of those nine players, only Laurie Rinker (1980) and Sukijin-Lee Wuesthoff (2003) won U.S. Girls' Junior titles. Kimberly Kim (2009) and Alison Lee (2012) were runners-up after losing in the scheduled 36-hole finals.
After missing the cut in 2009, Khang has lost in the second round of match play each of the past three years — twice in 21-hole playoffs. Khang vividly remembers the first playoff.
"I was 12 and we were playing at the Country Club of North Carolina," Khang recalled. "I was 5 down [to Cali Hipp] with six holes to play, but managed to come back to force a playoff and then lost on the 21st hole. But that was an awesome golf course, and I had so much fun that year."
Khang said there are three ingredients that make the U.S. Girls' Junior special.
"The courses they pick are amazing, the people around the event are wonderful, and the competition is always great. So there's not much more you could ask for," she said. "It's nice knowing what to expect when you show up, that things are going to be done a certain way. It's really good because for newcomers it can be intimidating."
At the USGA's Player Banquet on Sunday night, Khang was one of four players in this week's field to receive a Dianne Lewis Medal for playing in her fifth U.S. Girls' Junior. The other three were Nicole Morales, Yueer Feng and Casie Cathrea.
"Then that's the goal," said Khang, who is the reigning two-time Connecticut Women's Open champion. "I would love to keep playing. I don't care what the conflict, I would love to play."
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.