This week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior was the first USGA championship for Mexico’s Evelyn Arguelles, so she didn’t expect to end up in the semifinal match against World No. 8 Angel Yin.
And as the No. 951st-ranked player in the Women’s World Amateur Ranking™, she also didn’t expect to knock off No. 49 Mika Liu by a score of 2 and 1 in Friday morning’s quarterfinal match. Liu, after all, entered the event with a solid amateur record highlighted by her win earlier this year at the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
But Arguelles, 17, a diminutive player at 5-foot-1 and tipping the scales at just over 90 pounds, appeared fearless. She confidently prowled the course Friday morning at Tulsa Country Club, ponytail bouncing behind her like an exclamation point in a round that left her as the last of five Mexican players who started the week.
“She has nothing to lose, so that always helps,” said Delia Nava, of The Woodlands, Texas, a member of the USGA’s Women’s Committee who has known Arguelles since she was 8. “She is not afraid of anything and she’s just playing one match at a time, not thinking ahead.”
What Arguelles was thinking was what match play requires – especially a championship in Oklahoma’s soaring summer temperatures with a heat index of 117 degrees.
“I get energy playing match play,” said Arguelles, of Oaxtepec, Morelos, Mexico. “You have to go for it and make as many birdies as you can because if you have a low attitude, it’s not going to work.”
Arguelles and Liu matched pars through 10 holes until the Mexican finally won the 11th hole when Liu took bogey. Arguelles went 2 up with a birdie on No. 13.
But to no one’s surprise, Liu fought back with consecutive birdies on 14 and 15 to square the match. Arguelles regained a 1-up lead when Liu bogeyed 16, and the match ended when Liu recorded a second bogey on 17.
“I had a lot of confidence,” said Arguelles. “You either make good shots or you lose the match. I think I did a good job telling myself not to worry and to just play the game that I know how to play.”
With a number of top-name players bowing out of the championship before the semifinals – including stroke-play medalist Megan Khang of Rockland, Mass., who lost in the Round of 32, and sixth-seeded Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif., who lost in one of the other Friday-morning quarterfinal matches -- Arguelles just kept plodding along, much as she has done during her golf career.
She gave Yin all she could handle in a tightly contested semifinal match before Yin jarred an 18-foot putt on the 18th hole to defeat Arguelles, 1 up.
Despite the loss, Arguelles emerged from the week with newly found confidence and a new tournament added to her schedule. A representative from the PGA of America was taking in the action at Tulsa Country Club and invited Arguelles to take the last spot at the prestigious Junior PGA Championship, August 3-6 in Bryan, Texas.
She began playing golf at age 4, following her three older brothers and one younger brother. The only girl in the family wanted to do everything her brothers did.
At age 7, she attended an LPGA tournament in Mexico to watch her favorite player – former LPGA star and Mexican golf icon Lorena Ochoa. Arguelles had so many things she wanted to say to the Mexican star, but when the moment came that she could finally meet Ochoa, the youngster froze and couldn’t utter a word. All Arguelles knew was she was looking at the player she hoped to someday emulate.
Arguelles began playing tournaments in Mexico and Texas, eventually competing in some events on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) circuit.
But golf wasn’t her only focus. An honors student with a 4.0 grade-point average and an artist in a number of different mediums, she continued practicing her skills while pursuing more intellectual pursuits. In 2012, she studied in England for one year as a ninth-grader. While she worked on her English and lived with her cousins, she also learned to play golf in the rain – “lots of rain,” she said.
By 2014, she won the International Mexican Tournament at Mayakoba, and finished second at the Legends Junior Tour’s Horseshoe Bay Texas State Championship, where she posted a low competitive round of 66.
But Arguelles was still fairly far off the radar of top junior girl players. As some of her Mexican compatriots traveled more in the United States to compete in AJGA events, she was focused on tournaments in Texas.
“I’ve always wanted to play the U.S. Girls’ Junior, but I had other things going on,” she said. “I was looking for a college in the States and playing in some AJGA tournaments, but for me, playing around Texas was more important because I wanted to go to college there.”
That goal will come true in the fall of 2016, when Arguelles heads to Baylor University to play on the women’s golf team.
And while not currently a member of the Mexican Girls National Team, she has been invited to play some tournaments with the squad this summer. As the only Mexican player to reach this week’s Round of 16 at the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior, her stock is rising.
“It feels really good to still be a Mexican player in the championship,” she said after her quarterfinal win. “Of course, I wanted all the other Mexican girls to play well. They’re good players and they’re also my friends.”
As for her world ranking, Arguelles hopes her performance in this week’s championship will help her eventually become one of the world’s top women amateurs.
“I know I’m not very good in my world amateur ranking and it’s one of my goals to improve,” she said. “I haven’t played in big enough tournaments to make that happen.”
Arguelles hopes to spend the rest of the summer competing before returning to high school for her final year. She has plans to create paintings to sell to raise money for the school superintendent in her hometown, who has twice been treated for breast cancer. She hopes the money raised can help pay for the woman’s medical expenses and also lift the hearts of others.
“She was very happy, but when the cancer came back, it was very sad,” said Arguelles, who creates artwork with oil, acrylics, watercolor, pens and pencils. “I want to do a painting to offer encouragement.”
Arguelles also wants to encourage young girls like her. A good putter, the Mexican says her strength is not her length, but rather, her accuracy.
“It’s good to hit the ball really far, but there are other things that are important in this game,” she said. “Sometimes people think you have to be big to play and I know girls who get discouraged by that. I want to show them you can be small and successful.”
And even against top-ranked talent and larger opponents, Arguelles proved that this week.