Wu's 30-Hole Quarterfinal Win Makes USGA History August 11, 2017 | Chula Vista, Calif. By Vanessa Zink, USGA

Chia Yen Wu (right) and Lauren Stephenson made USGA history on Friday, with the former registering an epic 30-hole quarterfinal win. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Chia Yen Wu, the No. 63 seed from Chinese Taipei, prevailed in a 30-hole match – the longest in 117 years of USGA championship history – over Lauren Stephenson in the quarterfinals of the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship on San Diego Country Club’s par-72, 6,423-yard course. At 13 years, 4 months and 17 days old, the win also secures Wu’s place in history as the youngest player to advance to the championship’s semifinals.

With the sun setting, Wu and Stephenson walked to the par-5 18th tee for the fourth time in the match, their 30th hole, which surpassed the two longest matches in USGA championship history – 28 holes in the 1930 U.S. Amateur and 1960 U.S. Junior Amateur – by two holes. Until Friday, one of the four longest matches in U.S. Women’s Amateur history was in the 1996 quarterfinals when Joellyn Erdmann defeated Grace Park on the 27th hole. Park went on to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur two years later.

“My caddie just told me, ‘I want to go eat dinner,’” said a smiling Wu, referring to Scotty Patel, a two-time club champion at San Diego Country Club who is on Wu’s bag this week as they approached the 18th tee. “He reads the lines pretty well, and he tells me, ‘You can make it,’ and gives me confidence.”

Stephenson, who hit solid tee shots and iron shots all day, consistently outdriving Wu by 30-plus yards, missed badly to the left off the tee, landing 137 yards from the green in a difficult lie next to a tree. After watching Wu fly the green from 177 yards with her ball well above the hole, Stephenson approached with a 6-iron, landing in the rough behind the large front-right bunker.

The 20-year-old from Lexington, S.C., then chipped to the fringe in the back of the green, setting up a lengthy left-to-right par attempt, which she lipped out after Wu’s chip shot for birdie rolled 20 feet past the hole. With a second opportunity to end the match, Wu drained her second 20-plus-footer to secure her spot in the semifinals.

“I've tried to make it easy on her,” said Patel, who is playing half caddie, half mentor in the teen’s first U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance. “We talk about her favorite foods. She says she has 14 boyfriends in her bag. Every single club in her bag is her boyfriend.”

Stephenson, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open competitor who was one of five amateurs to make the cut in July at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., had a tough task in keeping her nerves at bay, too. With Wu 2 up through three holes, Stephenson found herself 2 up by the 12th hole, a lead she held until bogeying the 15th. 

Stephenson’s putting woes started on the 17th hole, where her par putt lipped out, squaring the match. She then watched Wu make a 5-footer on the 18th hole that moved the match to the first of 12 extra holes. Stephenson had six attempts to close out the match post-regulation with her putter, and painfully watched as six well-placed putts all just missed.

“I made a couple iffy strokes, but they all usually had a pretty good chance of going in, and I think just with how it played out, it wasn't my turn to win,” said Stephenson. “Just take it and learn from it, and I've gained a lot of confidence on the greens this week, whether they went in or not.”

A confidence-booster for Wu, who defeated 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman in the Round of 16, came on the 26th hole (No. 18), where she drained a 75-footer uphill for birdie from the front edge of the fringe. With Stephenson already 3 feet away for birdie after stuffing her approach shot, it was more or less a must-make for Wu.

“Usually in match play, you're kind of joking with yourself, you have to expect they're going to make it, but with her, I would tell my dad, I'm not kidding, every chip she hits or putts, I have to expect that it's going to go in because she’s right on it every time,” said Stephenson, who lost in the Round of 64 in both the 2013 and 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateurs. “It stinks to lose, but at the same time, you're never going to experience something like that again, and we both played great all day, so you can't really be too upset about it. That putt, I mean, that's going to be on TV, and you're going to see that forever. That was crazy.”

Wu, who earned the 63 seed in an 11-for-8 playoff that spanned Tuesday evening through Wednesday morning, will face Sophia Schubert in Saturday’s semifinals. Schubert defeated Isabella Fierro, 3 and 1, in the quarterfinals. Wu can become the third No. 63 seed to win a USGA title, joining Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links) and Steven Fox (2012 U.S. Amateur), while Schubert is trying to win the championship in her first appearance.

“I just kept playing my game, didn't change anything, just kept hitting greens, making putts,” said Schubert, a rising senior at the University of Texas from Oak Ridge, Tenn. “I had two-putts, one-putts, and I think that kind of took a toll on her. I felt like she needed to be a little more aggressive, and it didn't really work out.”

The 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, conducted by the United States Golf Association, is open to female amateur golfers with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 5.4. It consists of two 18-hole rounds of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Sunday.

Tennessean Sophia Schubert held off 16-year-old Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, on Friday afternoon to reach the semifinals. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)
Longest Matches in USGA History
Holes Year Championship
30 2017 U.S. Women's Amateur (Chia Yen Wu d. Lauren Stephenson)
28 1960 U.S. Junior Amateur (Michael Eiserman d. Patrick Honeycutt)
28 1930 U.S. Amateur (Maurice McCarthy d. George Von Elm)
27 2007 U.S. Women's Amateur (Andrea Messer d. Lauren Hunt)
27 1996 U.S. Women's Amateur (Joellyn Erdmann d. Grace Park)
27 1978 U.S. Women's Amateur (Denise Hermida d. Carole Caldwell)
27 1950 U.S. Women's Amateur (Mae Murray d. Fay Crocker)
27 1963 U.S. Senior Amateur (Egon Quittner d. Maurice Smith)
27 1998 U.S. Mid-Amateur (Jerry Courville d. Philip Ebner)

Facing a third UCLA Bruin in her fourth round of match play, 14-year-old Lucy Li, who eliminated medalist Shannon Aubert in the Round of 16, finally met her match in Lilia Kha-Tu Vu, a rising junior for the Bruins, who defeated Li, 4 and 3. Vu, who never trailed in the match, said she used experience to her advantage in staying calm during a round in which she did not record a birdie.

“I'd probably get angry after every shot if it didn't turn out the way I wanted,” said Vu of her younger self. “But right now, I accept it, and I'm like, OK, next shot, work from there. It's too much energy to get angry. It just takes too much mental energy when I could like use that energy to think about the next shot.”

“Throughout my high school career, I didn't win one single invitational and that kind of brought me down because all of my friends were winning them, and I was getting like third or top five,” said Vu, who is playing in her second U.S. Women’s Amateur and first since 2010, even though she has tried to qualify every year since. “I was never the winner. I had no confidence, basically, in high school.”

That changed when she went to UCLA, and Vu credits her teammate Bronte Law with bringing out her competitive side. In 2016, she won the Southern California Golf Association Women’s Amateur, and in 2017 she won the Pac-12 Championship and finished runner-up two weeks ago to Jennifer Kupcho in the Canadian Women’s Amateur.

“I feel like a lot of other players get a lot of spotlight, but it doesn't bother me because I don't really like it,” said Vu, ranked No. 5 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™.

In the semifinals, Vu will face Stanford University standout Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the WAGR. Valenzuela defeated Robynn Ree, of Redondo Beach, Calif., 4 and 3.

Ree, a rising junior at the University of Southern California, took an early lead on the first hole with a birdie putt, but Valenzuela won the next two holes. On the third hole, Valenzuela sunk a 55-footer to go 1 up. With the match all square through eight holes, Valenzuela won holes 9 through 11, winning two more holes before ending the match with a par save on the 15th hole.

“Lilia is such a great player,” said Valenzuela of her semifinal opponent. “Obviously, everyone that makes it to the semis played really well the previous matches, so it's going to be a tough one, and we'll just see how it goes.”

Born in New York City to a Mexican father and French mother, Valenzuela became a Swiss citizen at age 14. She finished runner-up by one stroke in the European Ladies’ Amateur Championship two weeks ago after heading into the final round with a seven-stroke lead. She was also one of three amateurs to play in the 2016 Olympic Games, which caused her to bow out of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur so she could attend the Opening Ceremony.

All four semifinalists are exempt into the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, which will be conducted at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs and Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. The U.S. Women’s Amateur finalists receive an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open, and the champion traditionally receives an exemption into three additional major professional championships – the Women’s British Open, the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship.

The match-play rounds of the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship will be broadcast on FS1 (Fox Sports 1). Coverage will air from 4-7 p.m. on Saturday and from 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Exclusive bonus coverage will be streamed live on usga.org on Sunday from 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Vanessa Zink is a manager of championship communications for the USGA. Email her at vzink@usga.org.

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