Mina Harigae, 17, of Monterey, Calif., defeated Stephany Fleet, 20, of DeWitt, Mich., 4 and 3, to win her first national title by taking the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at the 6,094-yard Kearney Hill Golf Links on Saturday.
Hitting precise irons and putting consistently, Harigae managed to win the 13th USGA national championship she played in.
“It means so much to me,” said Harigae. “I worked so hard to get here and now it’s paid off.”
Harigae has been in the national golf consciousness since she won the California
Women’s Amateur as an 11-year-old, winning it four times before she was 15. The Women’s Amateur Public Links marked the first time, however, that she had advanced to a USGA national final.
Fleet was competing in her first USGA championship and said her runner-up finish was a surprise. “But it definitely helps my confidence,” she said. “I never knew I could compete against the best players in the country.”
In the morning 18, Harigae made seven birdies against a lone bogey. She made an 8-footer on the first hole to halve it with a par, then rammed in a 12-foot birdie putt on the second hole to again halve the hole.
“When those putts went in, I said, ‘OK, I can make any putt today,’ ” said Harigae, twice a semifinalist in the U.S. Girls’ Junior (2003 and ’06).
She led, 2 up, after nine holes, then won four of five holes beginning at the 12th to take a 6-up lead. Birdies accounted for three of those wins. She ended the morning with a 5-up lead.
Fleet shot a respectable 71 in the morning, but Harigae’s superb iron play gave her a 66, with match-play concessions.
After the lunch break, Fleet made two quick birdies, on the 19th and 20th holes, but only won the 19th as Harigae rolled in a 10-foot birdie at the 20th before Fleet made hers from two feet closer. Both players struggled over the next seven holes, with Fleet making three bogeys to Harigae’s two. Harigae still owned a 5-up lead after 27 holes. “I just tried to keep my lead,” said Harigae. “I didn’t want to lose it but I knew if I kept trying to make birdies, but not be too aggressive, I’d be alright.”
The battle was renewed on the 28th hole and the match ended with a flurry. Harigae won the No. 28 with a five-foot birdie putt to go 6 up. Fleet answered with an 11-foot birdie putt on the 29th, but then hit her bunker shot at the par-3 30th hole into the water, eventually conceding Harigae’s birdie putt to trail by six again. With six holes to go, Fleet had to make something happen. She made two quick birdies at holes 31 and 32 to make things exciting.
Harigae was still dormie 4 going to the par-3 33rd hole. Harigae hit another crisp iron tee shot to within 9 feet of the hole. When Fleet failed to make her birdie putt, Harigae lagged her first putt to within tap-in distance and won the championship.
“Stephany just really didn’t give me any holes, I had to earn it.” said Harigae.
“I told myself to keep playing,” Fleet said, “keep trying to hit the best shot I could. I didn’t have anything to lose.”
Fleet will be a junior this fall at Eastern Michigan University, while Harigae has one more year of high school before heading to Duke University in the fall of 2008. She also was the fifth high-school-age player to win this championship since 2000. Prior to that, no player under the age of 18 had won this title.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship is one of 13 national championships conducted by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.