U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Medalist Saso Cruises on Day of Upsets at SentryWorld July 24, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

Playoff survivor Caroline Hodge upended No. 2 seed Maddison Hinson-Tolchard in the Round of 64 on Wednesday. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

What Happened

Any anxieties Yuka Saso had about match play were shelved at least for one day. Saso, the stroke-play medalist in the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at SentryWorld, dispatched No. 64 seed and final match-play qualifier Kaylee Sakoda, of Cypress, Calif., in the Round of 64 on Monday, 6 and 4.

Saso, 18, of the Philippines, admitted on Tuesday to not feeling totally comfortable with the format, having never advanced past the Round of 32 in three previous starts in this championship (she reached the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur). She even recorded her first bogey in 45 holes after playing bogey-free golf in stroke play.

But any nerves were quickly brushed aside to set up a Round-of-32 match on Thursday morning with Phoebe Brinker, 17, of Wilmington, Del. Brinker, who is headed to Duke University in 2020, defeated Michigan State rising sophomore Valery Plata, 18, of Colombia, 1 up.

Sakoda had to return to SentryWorld at 7 a.m. to complete the 13-for-2 playoff that began Tuesday evening and was whittled down to the final two players for the last spot. Three hours later, Saso never let Sakoda carry over any momentum, winning three of the first four holes before losing the par-5 ninth with a bogey. She recovered quickly with winning birdies on 10 and 11, then birdied Nos. 13 and 14 to close out the match. Saso, winner of the Junior Girls PGA Championship two weeks ago in Hartford, Conn., was the equivalent of 6 under par over 14 holes, with the usual match-play concessions.

“Yeah, I was nervous,” said Saso. “I'm just happy for today. [I] struggled on the ninth hole, but good thing I got my momentum back on hole 10.”

The opening round of match play, however, did not go so well for several top players, including 2017 champion Erica Shepherd, No. 2 seed Maddison Hinson-Tolchard and 2018 runner-up Alexa Pano.

Shepherd, 18, of Greenwood, Ind., who earlier this year captured the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title with fellow incoming Duke University freshman Megan Furtney, fell to Kelly Xu, 15, of Claremont, Calif., 3 and 2. Xu is noted for being the first female champion crowned at Augusta National Golf Club when she won the Girls 7-9 division of the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship in 2014.

“I had to learn about match play by Googling it last night,” said Xu, who had never played the format until Wednesday. “I definitely like playing it more than stroke play.”

Hinson-Tolchard, 18, of Australia, had a 1-up lead going into the final hole against the other playoff qualifier, Caroline Hodge, 18, of Larchmont, N.Y. But she bogeyed both the 18th and 19th holes to exit the competition.

Lauren Beaudreau had every reason to smile after beating world No. 34 Rachel Heck, 1 up, in the Round of 64. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Her fellow countrywoman, Grace Kim, had better luck. The 18-year-old eliminated Pano, 14, of West Palm Beach, Fla., 4 and 3.

But not all of the top seeds were sent home early. No. 3 Sophia Bae, 15, of Norwood, N.J., defeated Alexis Sudjianto, 18, of Charlotte, N.C., 5 and 4. In a match that saw a combined eight birdies, No. 5 Jillian Bourdage, 17, of Tamarac, Fla., outlasted Savannah Hylton, 16, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., 2 and 1. During one stretch, winning birdies were posted on six of seven holes. Rose Zhang, 16, of Irvine, Calif., who is No. 22 in the WAGR, survived a 19-hole match against Sophie Guo, 18, of the People's Republic of China, who now lives in Irvine.

Lauren Beaudreau, 18, of Lemont, Ill., also earned a 1-up decision over world No. 35 Rachel Heck, 17, of Memphis, Tenn., 1 up, winning the 18th hole after Heck had tied the encounter with consecutive birdies on 16 and 17.

What’s Next

The Round-of-32 matches will begin at 7 a.m. CDT, followed by the Round of 16, which is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The quarterfinals and semifinals are set for Friday, with the 36-hole final Saturday. The morning 18 will begin at 6:30 a.m. and the afternoon portion is set for 11:15 a.m. FS1 will broadcast live on Friday and Saturday from 1-3 p.m. CDT.

Notable

  • Nine countries are represented in the Round of 32, led by the USA with 23, and the People’s Republic of China having two players. Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong China, India, Mexico and Philippines each have one representative.

  • Since 2000, the stroke-play medalist(s) are 21-2 in the Round of 64.

  • All five extra-hole matches went 19 holes.

  • Grace Summerhays, 15, of Scottsdale, Ariz., kept alive the possibility of a brother-sister Junior title double with a 5-and-4 victory over Sarah Arnold. Her brother, Preston, who is serving as her caddie, won the U.S. Junior Amateur last Saturday at Inverness Club.

  • Jiarui (Joyce) Jin, 16, of the People’s Republic of China, the younger sister of 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Bo Jin, was eliminated by Maisie Filler, 18, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 1 up.

  • Yoona Kim, of Fairlawn, N.J., registered a hole-in-one during her match against Jennifer Koga, on the 173-yard, par-3 seventh hole, using a 23-degree hybrid. It was the first ace in the championship since last year when Abbey Daniel and Elizabeth Calderelli each aced the par-3 17th at Poppy Hills, the latter in a playoff for the final match-play spots. Kim won the match, 2 and 1.

  • Julia Gregg, of Farmers Branch, Texas, celebrated her 18th birthday on Wednesday with a 4-and-2 victory over fellow Texan Grace Ni, of Cypress. She planned to celebrate with dinner, birthday cake and a good night’s sleep. Seven years ago, Gregg recorded a hole-in-one on her birthday.

Quotable

“I'm kind of tired, so I might just rest for today. Long day tomorrow.” – Medalist Yuka Saso on her preparation for possibly playing two match-play rounds on Thursday

“You know, I didn't expect it at all. Coming into this week at the practice rounds I thought No. 7 would be a little tough. The tees are moved up [today], so I grabbed the club I liked, and when it was up in the air it looked pretty good. I told it to sit a little because I thought it might be over [the green]. My mom started screaming, people started clapping, and I was like, Okay, I'll take it.” – Yoona Kim on her first-ever hole-in-one

“When we found out we made the cut we were overjoyed. We were overachieving already. So I'm just going to keep playing relaxed and learn from some pretty great players.” – Kelly Xu on her mindset going into the Round of 32

“My opponent today was very solid. I was very fortunate to play against such a great player and prevail. It helps me for tomorrow. I just have to keep my momentum up.” – No. 5 seed Jillian Bourdage after beating Savannah Hylton, 2 and 1

“Yeah, he helped me with a lot green reading. I think that's pretty important out here, especially as the greens get a little bit faster as the week goes on. And then we kind of just bounce [ideas] off each other like where to hit it in the fairway and stuff like that.” – Grace Summerhays on the advice her brother and 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Preston, offered in her 5-and-4 victory

“It suits [my game] really well. It's a good driving course. You can take advantage of some of the holes if you can get it up there, and then if you can hit a wedge close you can have a good look at birdie.” – Julia Gregg on how SentryWorld suits her game

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

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