Tiffany Joh, 19, of San Diego, Calif., played 11-under-par golf over 31 holes, with the usual match-play concessions, in defeating 14-year-old Kimberly Kim of Hilo, Hawaii, 6 and 5, to win the 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at the 6,263-yard, par-72 Walking Stick Golf Course.
Joh’s brilliant play was punctuated with a hole-out from the fairway for an eagle-2 at the par-4 11 th hole, the 29th hole of the match. She went 6-up at that point and closed out Kim two holes later with a 6-foot birdie putt to halve the 31st of the scheduled 36-hole final.
Kim, meanwhile, was trying to become the second-youngest champion in WAPL history behind fellow Hawaiian Michelle Wie, who won this title as a 13-year-old in 2003. Joh, in fact, ended a three-year skein of under-18 WAPL champions that started with Wie and continued with 15-year-old Ya-Ni Tseng (2004) and 17-year-old Eun Jung Lee (2005).
“Honestly, I can’t even really believe it yet,” said Joh, who was a first-team National Golf Coaches Association All-America as a freshman this past season at UCLA. “I’m just kind of going to like sit here and let it soak in. I couldn’t tell you [how it feels] because in my mind, it doesn’t even feel like I’ve won yet.”
Kim, who hadn’t trailed in a match the entire week, went 1-down early at the second with a double bogey, but quickly got it back with a chip-in eagle at the par-5 fourth and grabbed a 1-up lead at the ninth by holing a 10-footer that just wiggled into the hole.
Joh then seized momentum on the second nine, winning holes 10, 14 and 15 to grab a 2-up lead at the break. Joh holed a 30-footer for birdie at 14 and then delicately chipped to 2 feet to set up a conceded birdie at the par-5 15th after Kim got a bad lie in the rough short of the green and failed to reach in regulation.
“During the break we ate lunch together and we were laughing together,” said Kim, who is headed to Rhode Island to compete in the U.S. Women’s Open at Newport Country Club that begins on Thursday. “So I didn’t really feel any pressure. I just wanted to play my game.”
But it was Joh who came out on fire. After both players missed short birdie putts at the 19th hole, Joh knocked her approach to 6 feet at No. 20 and converted for a 3-up lead. At the next hole, her second shot to the par 4 stopped 2 feet from the hole and when Kim flubbed her chip from the greenside rough, she conceded the birdie putt and the hole.
At the par-5 22nd, Joh holed a 7-footer for birdie right after Kim missed her 9-footer and took a 5-up lead. It swelled to 6 up at No. 23, another par 5, when converted a short birdie putt after her 9-footer for eagle just slid by. Kim again missed a putt, this time lipping out a 5-foot birdie try.
Kim collected her second chip-in of the day at the 24th hole – this time for birdie – to cut the deficit to 5 up, and then got another shot back when she drove the 326-yard, par-4 ninth and two-putted for birdie, while Joh missed her 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe.
“”When I went to 10 (28th of the match), I thought I had a chance and then I three-putted and that turned everything around,” said Kim. “And she kept playing really, really well.”
Leading 5-up after 28 holes, Joh faced a 110-yard shot from the fairway to a hole that was cut on the front-left portion of the green. Her 52-degree wedge approach landed just right of the flagstick and then trickled into the hole, bringing a delayed celebration from Joh.
“When I first saw it disappear, I was like, ‘No way that went sure … and don’t make a big deal about it,’ ” said Joh. “Don’t go starting running around the golf course looking like a fool.”
But up six with just seven holes to play, Joh realized that maybe this was her day on the course.
“When that went in,” said Joh, “I was like, ‘Okay, that’s pretty tight.’ She chipped in twice and I hit it once. I just felt super, super blessed and actually just on the side of No. 12 green, I kneeled down and I seriously just made a little prayer and was like, ‘Thank you, Lord, that was seriously a gift from heaven.’ ”
With the Women’s Open just four days away, Kim hardly has time to even digest this defeat. But it’s been a whirlwind summer already with the Rolex Girls’ Championship just prior to the WAPL (T-5), the Women’s Open next week and the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the coming weeks, not to mention a couple of AJGA competitions like the Betsy Rawls National Girls’ Championship and possibly the Canon Cup.
“I think I have like a three-day break the rest of the summer,” said Kim. “I am a little tired and wish I had a little break. I definitely have had a good start this summer. I hope that … I can keep going [strong].
“[My caddie/sister] told me everything happens for a reason, so even if I lost today, it must have been for some reason. She just played excellent golf.”
Joh now will add her name to an impressive list of WAPL champions, including Wie, Colorado native Jill McGill, Candie Kung, Danielle Ammaccapane and Pearl Sinn. She is the first person from UCLA to win this title since Mary Enright in 1981. The last UCLA player to win a USGA championship was Jane Park at the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“Coming into this tournament, I really didn’t have too much confidence in my game,” said Joh, who is now exempt for the next two U.S. Women’s Amateurs and the next 10 WAPLs. “And this definitely gave a little bit of a boost. When you go from thinking that you might have a chance of missing the cut to like winning the tournament, you are like, whoa, hold on a second, rewind.
“It’s just blows me away on everything that’s happened this week.”