The U.S. Girls’ Junior was not just Jayna Choi’s first time playing in a USGA championship. Choi says she’s never experienced match play before this week.
“I was really nervous when [my opponents] would say, ‘You can pick it up, it’s all good,’” Choi said, referring to times her opponent would concede a putt. “I would be like, ‘Pick it up like this?’”
Being new to both USGA competition and match-play rules, the 14-year-old from Colliersville, Tenn., did not expect to advance to the semifinals this week. But Choi made sure to do her homework, starting by getting on the phone with the USGA.
“I called one of the staff members and they helped me with the rules, step by step,” Choi said.
Never mind her No. 1,639 ranking in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ — Choi is having a banner year. She won the American Junior Golf Association’s Wells Fargo Junior Classic and a tournament on the Sneds Tour, a Tennessee Golf Foundation junior tour sponsored by Brandt Snedeker.
On Friday, her week at the U.S. Girls’ Junior ended with a 6-and-4 semifinal loss to Eun Jeong Seong, but only after she advanced past stroke play with the 28th seed and won four matches in a format unfamiliar to her.
And her golf season doesn’t end in Tulsa. Choi qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, which runs Aug. 10-16 at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club, and in September she will represent the United States at the Evian Championship Juniors Cup in France.
Sometime between those two high-profile events, Choi will do something more ordinary for her age: begin high school. She will attend Houston High School in nearby Germantown, Tenn., and play on their golf team.
In her first-ever round of match play Wednesday, Choi played a full 18 holes with Yealimi Noh before Choi prevailed, 1 up.
“Later on, I tried to end it faster because I got tired from all the heat,” Choi said.
Indeed, her Round-of-32 match ended faster, with Choi triumphing over Yu Sang Hou, 5 and 4. But she had more 18-hole nail-biters ahead of her – she secured a 2-up win over Karah Sanford in the Round of 16 and then eliminated Annika Cedo, 1 up, in Friday morning’s quarterfinals. In that match, Choi and Cedo traded small-margin leads and were never all square for longer than two consecutive holes.
“We went up and down a lot,” Choi said. “But on the last hole, I actually parred that hole — I missed a birdie putt, but she bogeyed it. So it was a close one.”
With an eventful fall and a bright future ahead of her, Choi, mature beyond her years, can chalk up her stellar showing at Tulsa Country Club as an experience to remember.
“I was kind of nervous [this week],” Choi said, “but I still tried my best, and it’s gotten me this far so I’m blessed.”