U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Medalist Saso, Zhang Among Quarterfinalists at SentryWorld July 25, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

Rose Zhang was 13 under par in two match-play victories on Thursday to set up a quarterfinal match with top seed Yuka Saso. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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What Happened

Yuka Saso and Rose Zhang, the two highest-ranked players in the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship field, each won a pair of matches on Thursday at SentryWorld to set up a quarterfinal showdown on Friday morning.

No. 1 seed and medalist Saso, who is No. 25 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), dispatched a pair of future Duke University golfers, Phoebe Brinker, of Wilmington, Del., 3 and 2, and Anne Chen, of Houston, Texas, 5 and 4.

In her morning Round-of-32 match against Brinker, the niece of PGA of America president Suzy Whaley, the 18-year-old from the Philippines birdied three of her final four holes to break open a tight match. On Thursday afternoon in the Round of 16 against Chen, who plans to join Brinker at Duke in the fall of 2020, Saso played 4-under golf, with the usual match-play concessions.

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This is the farthest Saso, the winner of the Girls Junior PGA Championship two weeks ago in Hartford, Conn., has advanced in four U.S. Girls’ Junior starts, although she did reach the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

“I'm happy that I won three matches now,” said Saso, whose quarterfinal match against Zhang is set for 6:30 a.m. CDT. “Actually, I didn't expect the result. It's better than I expected…But it's match play. Everything can happen. So just trying to focus and be ready.”

Zhang, 16, of Irvine, Calif., No. 22 in the WAGR, posted eight birdies over 12 holes in eliminating Michaela Morard, of Huntsville, Ala., 7 and 6, in the Round of 32. She then ousted Kelly Xu, 15, of Claremont, Calif., 4 and 3, in the Round of 16. Zhang, who tied for 55th in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, was the equivalent of 13 under par over 27 holes.

“Today was definitely a lot smoother than the first couple days that I've had,” said Zhang. “But overall, I just felt really comfortable with my game, and especially my putter today. That helped me get a lot of birdie opportunities.”

The chance for a rare sibling USGA Junior Championship double came to an end when Grace Summerhays, 15 of Scottsdale, Ariz., fell to No. 7 seed Lei Ye, 18, of the People’s Republic of China, 6 and 5, in the Round of 16. Summerhays’ 16-year-old brother, Preston, who served as her caddie the past three days, won the U.S. Junior Amateur last Saturday at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Ye, an incoming freshman at Stanford University and the runner-up in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner Ya Chun Chang, built a 4-up lead after nine holes and cruised from there. Earlier in the day, Ye eliminated Virginie Ding, of Hong Kong China, 2 and 1.

“I think during lunch today I managed to kind of loosen up my stroke a little bit, keep it smoother and longer, and I made a lot more putts this afternoon,” said Ye.

Brooke Seay earned a dramatic 21-hole victory over Grace Kim to reach the quarterfinals in her sixth and last U.S. Girls' Junior. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Ye will face fellow incoming Stanford freshman Brooke Seay, 18, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., in the quarterfinals after the latter holed a 35-foot putt from just off the 18th green to force extra holes against Australian Grace Kim. Seay, a six-time U.S. Girls’ Junior competitor, then converted a 4-foot birdie on the 21st hole, the 149-yard, par-3 third hole at SentryWorld, to secure her spot in the final eight.

“I was just kind of picturing a line,” said Seay of the birdie on 18. “I wasn't thinking of distance at all. The only thing on my mind was make it. [My caddie and brother Spencer] told me he would give me a puppy if I made it. That was just kind of unrelated, but it kind of loosened me up. I was a little surprised that it went in.”

Three holes later, she stuffed her tee shot to 4 feet.  When Kim missed her 9-footer for birdie, Seay ended the festivities.

Jillian Bourdage, 17, of Tamarac, Fla., the only remaining player with Wisconsin ties (her mother’s family resides in Appleton), played 10-under golf over 34 holes in defeating Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, 3 and 2, in the Round of 32, and left-hander Mika (Meijia) Jin, of China, 2 and 1. She was 8 under over 16 holes against Fierro, an incoming freshman at Oklahoma State who reached the quarterfinals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Incoming University of Tennessee freshman Nicole Whiston, 18, of San Diego, Calif., rallied from a 1 down deficit with two to play to defeat No. 3 seed Sophia Bae, 15, of Norwood, N.J., 1 up. Whiston parred No. 17 and knocked her approach shot from a fairway bunker on the par-4 18th hole to 4 feet for a winning birdie, earning a quarterfinal matchup with fellow Southern Californian Briana Chacon, 17, of Whittier. Chacon, who beat Texas Christian University rising sophomore Sabrina Iqbal, 18, of San Jose, Calif., 5 and 4, in the Round of 16, is headed to the University of Oregon this fall.

What’s Next

The quarterfinals matches will begin at 6:30 a.m. CDT on Friday with the first of two semifinal matches set to start at 11:15 a.m. The 36-hole final on Saturday will begin at 6:30 a.m., with the second 18 starting at 11:15 a.m. FS1 is set to broadcast live on Friday and Saturday from 1-3 p.m. CDT.

Notable

  • All quarterfinalists are exempt into the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior at the Eisenhower Golf Course (Blue Course) in Colorado Springs, Colo., provided she does not turn 19 before the final day of the championship on July 18.

  • Yuka Saso is bidding to become the second Philippine-born champion of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, joining 2014 winner Princess Mary Superal. Dottie Ardina, another Filipina, lost in the 2011 final to Ariya Jutanugarn.

  • Pat Hurst, the 1986 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, was on property enjoying the day with FS1 golf analysts Nicole Castrale and five-time USGA champion Juli Inkster. Hurst also won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1990 and was the runner-up to Annika Sorenstam in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open, losing an 18-hole playoff.

  • Quarterfinalist Briana Chacon’s caddie this week is Scott Kreuser, the husband of SentryWorld LPGA professional and championship chair Katie Kreuser.

  • The 21-hole match between Brooke Seay (winner) and Grace Kim was the longest of the championship. All five extra-hole matches in the Round of 64 went 19 holes. There were no extra-hole matches in the Round of 32.

  • Four of the eight quarterfinalists are from California: Chacon, Seay, Nicole Whiston and Rose Zhang.

Quotable

“Yuka is for sure a great player, and I do not expect any less from her tomorrow. But, you know, I think match play is a little different, so we'll just see how everything goes tomorrow. It's either a win or a loss. I feel really accomplished to get into the quarterfinals, so I'm going to try to play my own game, my own course strategy, and see how it goes. I know Yuka is most likely going to shoot low. This course is very well suited for her. She's a great friend, so I'm looking forward [to the match].” – Rose Zhang on the quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 seed Yuka Saso

“Honestly, Grace [Kim] played amazing. That was probably the toughest match I've ever played. We were both just firing on all cylinders and didn't really make any mistakes.” – Brooke Seay after her 21-hole win, where both players combined for nine birdies and just one bogey

“I mean, this is my last junior event, so I'm definitely hoping for a good finish to it. Being a quarterfinalist is obviously a good step in this direction.” – Lei Ye on reaching the final eight

“It means a lot. This is my first U.S. Girls' [Junior] as a [recently] graduated senior, which is kind of sad. It means a lot just to play in such a prestigious event. I know so many great names have won it and it means a lot just to be here.” – Briana Chacon, an incoming University of Oregon freshman, on what it means to be among the final eight

“This course is amazing. It's in beautiful condition. My friend is caddieing for me. We have a really good relationship. My whole family is out here watching. Just the whole atmosphere of the championship is great. This is my favorite tournament.” – Lauren Beaudreau, an incoming freshman at Notre Dame, on SentryWorld

“This is my fourth time playing in this tournament, and the farthest I ever made it before was Round of 64. Being this far, it's a great way to end my last U.S. Junior. Hopefully I can go all the way.” – Beaudreau

“It's a long week of golf, but I'm very excited for the next couple rounds. Hopefully. [I’ll] go back to the hotel room, maybe eat some ice cream, and relax.” – Jillian Bourdage on her mind set for Friday

“It kind of means a lot to me since my sister (Waverly) played three years ago and got into the quarterfinals and I was caddieing for her starting in the Round of 32. So it was really special to me that we were kind of like connected that way, that we both made quarterfinals.” – Nicole Whiston

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

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