U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Valenzuela Edges Brooks in Battle of Runners-Up
August 7, 2019 | West Point, Miss.
By David Shefter, USGA
When Albane Valenzuela reached the championship match of the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at San Diego Country Club before eventually losing in the 36-hole final, her road included a bevy of players with impeccable credentials.
Some of the luminaries she defeated were college standouts Cheyenne Knight (Alabama), Robynn Ree (University of Southern California) and Lilia Vu (UCLA), along with future Ladies British Amateur runner-up Stephanie Lau, a collegiate standout from Northwestern.
So, when the 64-player draw was revealed Tuesday night by the USGA, the Stanford University senior could only offer a wry smile about her Round-of-64 opponent on Wednesday in the 119th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club: fellow Women’s Amateur runner-up Sierra Brooks.
Just a few days earlier, the two college All-Americans bonded during a practice round. Then through the luck of the draw – all based on their 36-hole stroke-play scores – they wound up matched against each other.
A match that would have been worthy of a semifinal or final more than lived up to its billing, with neither player holding more than a one-hole lead until the par-4 16th when Valenzuela, 21, of Switzerland, eventually pulled away, 2 and 1.
“She's a good friend, so you never want to play against a friend, and she's an unbelievable player, so I knew it was going to be a very tough match right off the bat,” said Valenzuela, the No. 5 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) who shared low-amateur honors in the Evian Championship two weeks ago. “But that's what can happen with match play. You get a draw, you have to play against a teammate, fellow competitors. I think we both gave a really good fight. We both missed out there, but we both also made some really good golf shots. It was a good match, and happy to get off with a win.”
Brooks, 21, of Orlando, Fla., a senior at the University of Florida who was the runner-up in the NCAA Championships in May and is No. 14 in the WAGR, felt like the match pivoted on two mistakes, the latter coming on No. 16 when she short-sided herself with the approach shot and failed to get up and down for par. She also double-bogeyed the first hole.
“I knew going into [the match] that she's an amazing player and has been in the same spot in this event as I have been, in the final match,” said Brooks, a member of the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team who lost to Hannah O’Sullivan in the 36-hole championship match at Portland Golf Club. “So, you know it's going to be a grind, and it was. She didn't make any mistakes.
“My game feels good. I just had two missed shots today that kind of cost me … and for me that was the misplacement of my match.”
Match play is always a survival test, but on Wednesday the 64 competitors had to cope with more than just their opponents. Oppressive heat – temperatures in the 90s with a heat index hovering between 100 and 105 – brought an added intangible to the intensity. Many competitors and caddies used umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun and cold towels to stay cool. Water and sports drinks were the beverages of choice on virtually every hole.
But co-medalist and No. 1 seed Jiarui Jin couldn’t continue her hot play in stroke play. Campbell University sophomore Emily Hawkins, 18, of Lexington, N.C., delivered the day’s biggest upset, eliminating Jin, 16, of the People’s Republic of China, 4 and 2. Hawkins never trailed in the match and her 30-foot birdie on the par-5 15th essentially sealed the victory.
Jin, whose brother, Bo, was the runner-up in the U.S. Junior Amateur three weeks ago, became the sixth medalist/co-medalist to lose in the Round of 64 since 2010, joining Jihee Kim (2011), Bethany Wu (2014), Angel Yin (2015), Jennifer Hahn (2015) and Mariel Galdiano (2016).
“I just felt like I had nothing to lose,” said Hawkins, the first player in Big South Conference history to garner playe-of-the year and freshman-of-the-year honors. “Just go out there and play my best and see what happens, hit some fairways and then try to roll in a few putts.”
The news was better for the other co-medalist, Alexa Pano, of Lake Worth, Fla. The 14-year-old, who is believed to be the third-youngest medalist in championship history behind Lydia Ko (2011) and Yumi Matsubara (2013), won the first three holes against Texan Remington Isaac and cruised to a 5-and-4 victory. The 2019 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier was coming off a Round-of-64 defeat in last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior as well as last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“I'm really happy with the start,” said Pano, who will be headed to Scotland next month to represent the USA in the Junior Solheim Cup. “It's been a pretty big goal for me the past couple years to get through the Round of 64 because I've just kind of halted there, and I'm really happy to have done that. But now I’m looking forward to improving throughout the rest of the championship and try to see how far I can go.”
Another match featuring two decorated players saw University of Texas All-American Kaityln Papp, 20, of Austin, Texas, the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion with current college teammate Hailee Cooper, outlast 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior semifinalist Yuka Saso, 18, of the Philippines, 2 and 1. The match was tied through 14 holes – each player won one hole – before Saso found the penalty area with her second shot on the par-5 15th. Papp’s two-putt birdie won the hole and she followed by making a 40-foot birdie on No. 16 to go 2 up. On the par-3 17th, Papp’s tee shot stopped 3 feet from the hole and Saso eventually conceded when she failed to hole her tee shot.
“I knew it was going to be a very even match all day,” said Papp, who qualified for the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open. “I knew she was a great player. I played with her at the Augusta Women's Amateur in April, so I knew she was a really solid player, hits it far, and I had to do my best not to make too many mistakes out there.”
Incoming Stanford University freshman Brooke Seay, 18, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., completed a remarkable comeback from 4 down with four to play to defeat Stephanie Kyriacou, 18, of Australia, in 22 holes, the longest match of the day. Seay, a quarterfinalist in last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-4 22nd, Old Waverly’s fourth hole, to end the marathon. Seay birdied Nos. 15, 16 and 18 – the latter a concession – to force extra holes.
“I actually kind of like being in that position,” said Seay of her deficit. “I mean, it's more pressure, but in some sense it's liberating to know you just have to hit that shot, and so something just kind of turned on, and my game started coming into place. I just played really solid the last few holes.”
Match play continues on Thursday with the Round of 32 and Round of 16. The first Round-of-32 match begins at 7:15 a.m. CDT, with usga.org providing live streaming from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CDT. FS1’s live coverage of the Round of 16 airs from 3-6 p.m.
- The Round of 64 featured players from 11 countries, including the USA. The other nations represented were Australia, the People’s Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, England, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Switzerland and Thailand.
- Angela Liu, 14, of the People’s Republic of China, was the youngest to qualify for match play, while two-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Julia Potter-Bobb, 31, of Indianapolis, Ind., was the oldest. Liu advanced with a 3-and-2 victory over Michigan State junior Yurika Tanida, 20, of Japan, while Potter-Bobb lost, 1 down, to University of North Carolina senior Brynn Walker, 20, of St. David, Pa. Walker rallied with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18.
- Katie Chipman, 21, of Canton, Mich., the first player from NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University to qualify for match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, defeated the last player with local ties, incoming Mississippi State freshman Ashley Gilliam, 18, of Manchester, Tenn., in 21 holes.
- For the second consecutive day, a player eagled the par-4 14th hole. Amanda Doherty, 21, of Brookhaven, Ga., a senior at Florida State, made a 2 on the 349-yard hole en route to defeating 15-year-old Sophie Linder, of Carthage, Tenn., 4 and 3.
- Stanford had the most players in the Round of 64 with four: Albane Valenzuela, Andrea Lee, Lei Ye and Brooke Seay, with all but Ye advancing. Ye, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago at SentryWorld, was trying to complete a rare in-season double. Two of the three University of Southern California players advanced: Allisen Corpuz and Gabriela Ruffels. Malia Nam lost to No. 4 seed Megan Schofill, an incoming freshman at Auburn University.
“It's match play. The person can play their best round of their life against you or their worst. You just never know. It's very random, but I think it's just nice because I knew the match was going to be very fair. We were going to give putts. It was going to be a very fair game. That's what I was kind of excited about. I was like, OK, at least it's going to be fair, and the one who wins tomorrow will be [the better player].” – Albane Valenzuela on facing fellow U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up Sierra Brooks
“This is my first time making it to match play, and I got some advice from one of my friends … a [LPGA] Tour player. She just told me to never give up, keep playing, play your heart out, take no prisoners.” – Bentley Cotton after eliminating 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor Bethany Wu, 6 and 4
“When I saw when I was playing against Gina, I was like, ‘Oh, of course I get put against Gina Kim.’ She's a good friend of mine, and I know what a good fighter she is. Last night, I was ready to put out everything I had, if I was going to take her on, and we both played absolutely amazing. It went 1 down, all square, 1 down, all square, and I didn't get up in the match until [No. 16]. Then we were both off the green on 17, and we both were chipping, and I was talking to my caddie, and I said, ‘I would be shocked if she didn't hole this out,’ and of course she holed it out for birdie, and we were all square on 18. I just stuck to the game plan. I played conservatively. I took 3-wood instead of driver, and I made par [to her bogey], and it just ended up my way.” – Megha Ganne on her 1-up victory over 2019 U.S. Women’s Open low amateur Gina Kim
“This heat is pretty insane, and the humidity is crazy. But I’m trying not to focus on it too much. But definitely I'm feeling it out there.” – Alexa Pano on the stifling conditions
“I try to treat every match the same, whether I'm playing [a well-known player] or someone I've never met before. I think it helps just to play it the same.” – Kaitlyn Papp on whether she focuses harder when playing a highly rated player such as Yuka Saso
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.
The Social Scene
Best of luck to all the girls playing in the 119th #USWomensAm this week. Enjoy every moment! The @USGA puts on a world-class event and I’ll always cherish the memories of winning in 2017! Be sure to tune in to @FS1 to watch the action! pic.twitter.com/SA5Yia03pQ— Sophia Schubert (@thesophiagolf) August 7, 2019
2018 @CWACgolf champ Ty Akabane is moving on at the #USWomensAm after defeating 2018-2019 @JRTOURNORCAL Girls' Player of the Year Madelyn Gamble on the 20th hole https://t.co/HvJ5276exN pic.twitter.com/iPNV5Ev4sD— NCGA (@ncga1901) August 7, 2019