U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
3 Things to Know: Match Play July 23, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

For the 64 remaining competitors in the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at SentryWorld, the first major hurdle has been cleared. Stroke play is now firmly in the rearview mirror and it’s time to focus on match play.

Over the next four days, players will go head to head to determine the next name to be engraved on the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy; the champion will also earn an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas. This format is tense at times, and demands mental and physical fortitude. It’s an endurance test as much as a showcase of skills.

But the lone survivor will have proven she’s the best of the best and be crowned a national champion, adding her name to the likes of JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Nancy Lopez, Hollis Stacy, Amy Alcott, Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, Minjee Lee and Lexi Thompson.

So as we begin the Round of 64, here are 3 things to know:

The Medalist Enigma

It is certainly an honor for any competitor to earn medalist honors in a USGA amateur competition. It signifies you’ve beaten everyone in the field over 36 holes of stroke play. Yet as everyone who has played in a USGA championship will tell you, the medal is nice, but the trophy is not handed out after stroke play.

Medalist Yuka Saso, who posted 12-under 132, was certainly impressive over the first two days, but her work is far from done. And for the 18-year-old from the Philippines, it means trying to advance farther than she has in three previous U.S. Girls’ Junior appearances. Her best result is the Round of 32, although she reached the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

The good news is a medalist has lost in the Round of 64 only twice in this event since 2000: Sadie Englemann (to Kendall Griffin in 2016) and Mari Chun (to Stephanie Sherlock in 2004). Jutanugarn, in 2011, remains the last medalist to take home the title. Last year, medalist Lucy Li advanced to the semifinals before losing to Alexa Pano. No. 2 seed Yealimi Noh won the championship.

Drying Out

Anyone who was at SentryWorld on Saturday witnessed some unpleasant conditions. Tornado warnings were issued, and high winds took out several trees. Debris was widespread and there was plenty of standing water from the 3.02 inches of rain the course received. Two days later, nobody would have believed a storm had ever hit.

Thanks to yeoman’s work from the maintenance staff and 50-plus volunteers, fallen trees and debris were removed and any standing water was eliminated.

And after three consecutive days of sunshine, gentle breezes and temperatures in the 70s, the course has dried out nicely. Bob Vavrek, a USGA Green Section agronomist who is on-site this week, said the course is “pretty close” to being where Tracy Parsons, the director of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, wants it in terms of firmness.

Right now, the weather forecast looks good for the next several days.

Double Still Alive

After a disappointing 2-over 74 on Monday, 2017 champion Erica Shepherd rallied nicely to shoot a 3-under 69 in Tuesday’s second round to qualify for match play. The 18-year-old from Greenwood, Ind., who is competing in her final U.S. Girls’ Junior, kept alive her chances to win a second USGA title in the same year.

This spring, Shepherd teamed with Megan Furtney, also an incoming Duke University freshman, to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla., and now she has a chance to join Pearl Sinn (1988), Jennifer Song (2009) and Eun Jeong Seong (2016) as the only female players to have claimed multiple USGA titles in the same calendar year. Shepherd, a lefty, would be the first to accomplish the feat as a Four-Ball champion.

“Of course, I’ve thought about it,” said Shepherd. “But when I get on the golf course, it is none of that.

“Hopefully today meant that my game is turning in an upward motion, [and] hopefully I can carry that into tomorrow.”

Furtney, however, won’t get that chance for a double this week as she posted 7-over 151 and missed the cut.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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