U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Near-Record Performance Nets Saso Medalist Honors July 23, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

Yuko Saso was the only player in the field to play bogey-free golf in the stroke-play portion of the championship. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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When it comes to match play, Yuka Saso admits that her acumen in that format could use a boost. But if she can somehow find the same mojo that was on display the past two stroke-play days at SentryWorld, the 18-year-old from the Philippines might be an awfully difficult out.

Saso posted her second-consecutive bogey-free round on Tuesday, shooting a 5-under 67 to earn medalist honors by five strokes in the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Her 12-under total of 132 was two strokes off the 36-hole stroke-play record of 130 held by Taylor Karle (2005 at BanBury Golf Course in Eagle, Idaho) and one behind Lucy Li’s total last year at Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Saso was the only player in the field to go bogey-free in stroke play.

But now comes the mental hurdle. In three previous U.S. Girls’ Juniors, Saso, who is No. 24 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, has not advanced past the Round of 32. She did reach the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa. Eleven days ago, Saso won the Junior Girls PGA Championship in Hartford, Conn., a 72-hole, stroke-play competition.

“I really don't play in match play except at USGA championships,” said Saso, “so to be honest I am a little nervous. But I'm trying to prepare and set myself up well.

“I'm definitely happy. My goal over the first two days was to get into match play so it feels good to accomplish that.”

For a second consecutive day, competitors were greeted with temperatures in the 70s, although it was a tad windier, with gusts reaching as high as 20 mph.

The cut for match play came at 6-over 150, with 13 competitors playing off for two match-play spots. Caroline Hodge, 18, of Larchmont, N.Y., birdied the first playoff hole, the par-3 16th, to secure the 63rd seed. The final spot was determined on Wednesday morning when Kaylee Sakoda, 18, of Cypress, Calif., parred the 18th hole, the third playoff hole, to earn the No. 64 seed.

Maddison Hinson-Tolchard, 17, of Australia, matched Saso for the championship’s best round with a bogey-free 65 to earn the No. 2 seed for match play. Playing in her second consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior, Tolchard will look to improve upon her Round-of-64 effort from Poppy Hills.

“Last year was interesting with all the weather delays [due to fog], but the biggest thing I learned was that in match play scores don't matter,” said Hinson-Tolchard. “You can have a double [bogey] and just need to move on. You can make it up on the next hole. In match play you can be a bit more aggressive.”

Sophia Bae, 15, of Norwood, N.J., who plans to attend Duke in 2021, earned the No. 3 seed after posting 5-under 139. 

What’s Next

The Round of 64 is scheduled to begin on Wednesday at 8 a.m. CDT. The 36-hole championship match is scheduled for Saturday. FS1 will broadcast live the last two days of the championship from 2-4 p.m. EDT.

Notable

  • Yuko Saso’s five-shot margin of victory in stroke play matched the largest in the championship since 2000. The largest margin is seven, held by Beth Bauer (1997, champion), Lauren Howe (1976) and Kathleen Ahern (1966).

  • Erica Shepherd, 18, of Greenwood, Ind., the 2017 champion and 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion with partner Megan Furtney, of St. Charles, Ill., rebounded from an opening 74 to shoot a 3-under 69 to make the cut. Furtney finished at 7-over 151 and missed the cut by one stroke. Both are headed to Duke University this fall.

  • Last year’s runner-up, Alexa Pano, 14, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also qualified for match play at 4-over 148.

  • Grace Summerhays, 15, of Scottsdale, Ariz., the younger sister of 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Preston Summerhays, qualified at 3-over 147 with her brother on the bag. Jiarui (Joyce) Jin, the younger sister of U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, Bo Jin, also advanced at 5-over 149.

  • Among the notables who failed to qualify included playoff victims Ashley Gilliam, a quarterfinalist in 2018, world No. 45 Amanda Sambach, and 2017 semifinalist Taylor Roberts. Also missing the cut were sisters Madison and Carissa Wu.

  • Latanna Stone, 17, of Riverview, Fla., withdrew from the championship prior to Tuesday’s round with a back injury. Stone, who is headed to Louisiana State University in the fall, opened with a 78. She has the distinction of being the second-youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur (2012).

Quotable

“I had my [swing] coach (Brent Nicoson) on the bag and that really helped me focus on one shot at a time, and I just committed to the numbers and really felt good about it. I think he also helps me stay out of my own head. After making a couple of bogeys, having someone there to keep me in line. It saved me three or four shots.” – 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Erica Shepherd on the turnaround from a first-round 74 to a 3-under 69 in Round 2 to qualify for match play

“With this golf course, with the wind, you can really make a bogey at any time, and this setup is not easy, so I am a little surprised I've been able to go bogey-free.” – stroke-play medalist Yuka Saso

“For a sibling, I would say caddieing is tougher because you’re not taking the shots…and you can’t do anything about it. I don’t tell her to do anything. I just give her information and then she can decide to make the decision for herself.” – 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Preston Summerhays on caddieing for his younger sister, Grace, in the U.S. Girls’ Junior

“The course has been amazing. I love it. The greens are really, really pure. You can pick a line and trust it. The fairways are immaculate, they are so nice to play off of. And the 16th is my favorite hole. Just standing there on the tee box and looking at all the flowers, it's so pretty.” – Maddison Hinson-Tolchard on SentryWorld

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

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