Defending champion Danielle Kang, 18, of Westlake Village, Calif., won her second consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, defeating Moriya Jutanugarn, 17, of Thailand, 6 and 5, in the 36-hole final Sunday at the 6,399-yard, par-71 Rhode Island Country Club.
"I feel great," said Kang, who had 11 birdies – three of which were conceded – against one bogey in 31 holes. "I played the best round I’ve played at a major championship. I played well last year, but not this well."
|Notebook: Going Out With A Kang|
Kang joins 10 players who have won at least two Women’s Amateur championships in a row. The last to successfully defend was Kelli Kuehne in 1996. Also on that list is Kay Cockerill, who successfully defended her title in 1987 at Rhode Island C.C.
Five players, including Juli Inkster, have won three in a row, but Kang plans to turn professional and will be unable to defend in 2012 at The Country Club in Cleveland.
The golf in the championship match was remarkable. There were 16 birdies combined and birdies won five of the first six holes, despite rain showers and winds that gusted to 15 mph. Jutanugarn, low amateur at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, birdied the first hole with an 8-foot putt to take a 1-up lead.
Her 15-year-old sister, Ariya, her caddie, won the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago. They were trying to become the first family members in history to claim two USGA titles in the same year. But the day belonged to Kang. Starting at the third hole, she reeled off three consecutive birdies. The stretch was marked by sharp iron play resulting in putts of 18 inches, 4 feet and 5 feet. Kang was 2 up after five holes.
The sixth, shortened to 220 yards, was a drivable par 4 and Jutanugarn drove into a greenside bunker. After blasting out to within 10 feet of the hole, she made the birdie putt, cutting Kang’s lead to 1 up.
Her success was short-lived. On the eighth, a 481-yard par 5, Kang hit the green with a 3-wood second shot and was 20 feet from the hole. Jutanugarn’s second shot found a water hazard. After Kang lagged her eagle putt to within a foot, Jutanugarn conceded the birdie and Kang was 2 up. When Kang went 3 up at the ninth, it was the first time in the match that par won a hole.
Kang was a relentless opponent. Beginning on the 11th hole, she made three consecutive birdies for the second time. The first came on a 15-foot putt and she went 4 up. At the 12th, she hit her approach shot to within 2 feet for another birdie and a 5-up lead. Kang made her seventh birdie of the day with an 11-foot putt at the 13th hole.
"I played okay, but she made a lot of birdies," said Jutanugarn.
Kang was 6 up and with the usual match-play concessions, seven under par after 13 holes.
"My dad (K.S. Kang, her caddie) told me I was seven under at one point and I wanted to get to 10 under," said the champion. "I know Moriya is a great player and I knew pars weren’t going to win holes."
Jutanugarn was up against the ropes.
"I knew she was really good and when she was 6 up, I just wanted to play my game and do my best," Jutanugarn said.
It was Kang’s biggest lead of the match but her opponent held on. At the 14th, Jutanugarn hit her approach shot to within a foot of the hole, which was immediately conceded. When Kang’s 12-footer for a birdie slid past, the lead was down to 5 up.
At the 15th tee, the players faced the full force of gusty winds off Narragansett Bay. Kang’s second shot sailed into a greenside bunker. Jutanugarn drilled her approach shot through the wind and her ball bit and skidded to a stop just 10 feet from the hole. Kang’s bunker shot was 18 feet past the hole and she missed the putt to make her first and only bogey. Jutanugarn won the hole with a par, leaving Kang 4 holes in front.
Jutanugarn was tenacious, making nice up-and-downs from a bunker on the 16th and from greenside rough on the 17th to save pars. The holes were halved and Kang remained 4 up, which is where it stayed into the lunch break.
With match-play concessions, Jutanugarn’s scorecard showed a 2-under-par score of 69 and Kang a 6-under-par 65.
After the lunch break, Kang continued her fireworks, holing a 12-foot, uphill birdie putt on the 19th to go 5 up.
In the damp wind, both players took a lot of time studying the tricky slopes of the Donald Ross-designed greens. Neither had a three-putt green.
Jutanugarn rallied over the next three holes. She won her first hole of the afternoon at the 21st with a 16-foot birdie putt. Both parred the 22nd hole, Jutanugarn nearly holing a 40-foot pitch. At the par-3 23rd, Jutanugarn made a deuce, her second birdie in three holes, and Kang’s lead was cut to 3 up.
Kang surged back on the 220-yard, par-4 24th hole. She nearly drove the green with a 3-wood and landed in greenside rough. Just as she had in the morning, Jutanugarn drove into a greenside bunker and her recovery shot burned the hole, ending 5 feet away. She barely missed the birdie putt. From just over 2 feet, Kang made her ninth birdie of the match and went 4 up.
They halved the next three holes with pars. At the 193-yard, par-3 28th, Kang hit a soaring fairway metal to 4 feet. Jutanugarn’s shot landed in heavy grass in the slope of a bunker. From an awkward stance, Jutanugarn chipped weakly and conceded Kang’s birdie putt. Kang was 5 up.
With eight holes remaining, Jutanugarn needed to chip away at Kang’s lead. But Kang won the 29th hole with another birdie, her 11th of the match, to again go 6 up.
The 30th hole was halved with pars. Kang was dormie-6 and the match was near its end. Kang and Jutanagarn halved the 31st with pars and Kang won the match and her second consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur title, 6 and 5.
After five months of tournaments in the United States, Jutanugarn returns to Bangkok next week to begin school, where she is an incoming high school junior. While she kept her poise, her chin trembled with emotion in the post-championship press conference.
"Maybe I won’t have another chance in this," she said. "My sister Ariya told me, 'You do good, so now you have to work harder.'"
Barrington, R.I. – Results following Sunday’s championship final at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the 6,399-yard, par-71 Rhode Island Country Club:
Danielle Kang, Westlake Village, Calif. (144) def. Moriya Jutanugarn, Thailand (137), 6 and 5