Moon Anxious to Put Rules Snafu in Rear-View Mirror at Poppy Hills July 13, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Tom Mackin

A Rules snafu in the 2017 semis ended Elizabeth Moon's bid for a U.S. Girls' Junior title, but the incident made her stronger. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)  

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Elizabeth Moon waited 11 months to watch the video. Who could blame her? Would you want to relive a split-second decision that cost you a spot in the finals of your first USGA championship? One that also thrust you into an unwanted media spotlight?

But the 18-year-old from Forrest City, Ark., called up the video on her phone recently, partly to prepare herself for the inevitable questions she’ll receive in the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Recapping what she saw: On the 19th hole of her semifinal match against Erica Shepherd in last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo., Moon had a 4-foot birdie putt to win. She missed and then immediately raked the ball back with her putter in frustration. The incident happened so quickly that Shepherd had not conceded the 18-inch par putt that would have extended the match. Moon’s reactionary decision incurred a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2, and as a result, she lost the hole and the match.

Shepherd, of Greenwood, Ind., won the championship the next day over Jennifer Chang and the 17-year-old will be looking this week to become the fourth player to win consecutive U.S Girls’ Junior titles.

Moon was understandably crushed at the sudden ending to that match, one that unfortunately thrusted both competitors into a maelstrom of media and social-media scrutiny.

“I think the fact that we gave putts to each other all day long, it just didn’t hit me,” said Moon prior to flying to the Monterey Peninsula for this week’s competition. “I was into the fact that I was trying to make the putt to win the match. I think I just got so lost in that thought that I dragged the ball back so instantly.”

Looking back a year later, Moon says she took away at least one valuable lesson from the situation.

“The only thing I felt was a mistake was not being more cautious with how big of a tournament it was. I should have been more cautious with every single thing I was doing. I was, but I know now to be even more cautious.”

The incident overshadowed a tremendous championship for the three-time Arkansas State Golf Association Player of the Year who parlayed her success into a scholarship to the University of Central Florida, where she’ll begin playing this fall.

“I played really well that week, which was unexpected,” she said. “My putting was really on. It never failed me. I’m normally a very accurate driver, so I didn’t miss many fairways, and I got up and down very well in pressure situations.”

That pressure began from the moment she arrived at Boone Valley.

“When I first got there I was really scared,” she said. “It was exciting and intimidating at the same time.”

After tying for 42nd in stroke play, Moon methodically made her way through four rounds of match play.

“I grew more comfortable with the course and had a better strategy for each hole as the matches progressed,” she said. “What really helped me last year was I stuck to my plan for each hole, especially on the par 5s, which I played more aggressively.”

She didn’t even use a caddie until the second nine of her quarterfinal match.

“I’m very stubborn and I never had a caddie before, so I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would feel with someone on my bag at the time,” said Moon. “But it got really tiring and I finally reached my limit, so I used a volunteer.”

After the abrupt ending to the semifinal match, family members – Moon is the oldest of five children – and close friends all conveyed the same message to her: Keep your head up and don’t let it get to you. Even Shepherd offered consolatory words of encouragement in the clubhouse.

“Those words were really supportive and helped me move on,” said Moon. “I heard that the whole thing took a really big hit on Twitter, but I don’t have a Twitter account. I found out a lot later about the harsh things that were being said. It was bad for both of us. I’ve seen Erica at a lot of tournaments since then. We talked a few months after it happened. Everything is fine between us.”

Moon handled the aftermath with poise, even playing the following week in the Southern Junior Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event with teams from Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri.

“A lot of people approached me there about the incident. I didn’t really like that because I kind of wanted to just block it away from my mind at that moment. But it was good to continue to play competitive golf. It helped me move on.”

So far this season has been a rollercoaster ride for Moon. She broke her left foot from a running injury in late March and couldn’t play for a month.

“That felt like I was dying,” she said. “I had so many big tournaments coming up and I couldn’t play in some. It was awful.”

In late April she tied for fifth at the Strategic Communications/Justin Thomas Junior Championship at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Ky. More recently, she qualified for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Golf Club of Tennessee at a sectional conducted at Chateau Elan Golf Club in Braselton, Ga.

As scholarship offers began rolling in, Moon mulled going to college or turning professional after high school graduation. She decided to play for Central Florida.

“I was late in the college recruiting process because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to turn professional immediately or go to school,” she said. “Patty Tavatanakit, who plays at UCLA, told me it’s great to attend college and she was a top-ranked junior golfer. So hearing that helped me decide to go to college.”

This week, Moon will still have to battle through memories of the tough Rules lesson from last year.

“Usually it doesn’t come back to me. But sometimes if I’m nervous over a short putt, it will enter into my head. I’m a lot more careful now with short putts. It helped me become more careful.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.

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