NORMAN, Okla. – Lauren Diaz-Yi, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., defeated stroke-play qualifying co-medalist Doris Chen, of Bradenton, Fla., 10 and 9, in the 36-hole final of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship on Saturday at the 6,351-yard, par-72 Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.
The margin of victory was the largest in the 37-year history of the championship, surpassing the 7-and-6 victory by Jennifer Song over Kimberly Kim in 2009. The WAPL went to the 36-hole championship-match format in 2002.
The largest margin of victory in any USGA championship is 14 and 13, set by Anne Quast Sander when she defeated Phyllis Preuss at the 1961 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Tacoma (Wash.) Country & Golf Club.
It is the first USGA championship victory for Diaz-Yi, 18, an incoming freshman at the University of Virginia. In 2012, she reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., and the round of 32 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Country Club in suburban Cleveland.
Chen, a member of the record-setting 2013 NCAA-champion University of Southern California women’s golf team, was vying to be the first medalist to win the WAPL since 2001, when fellow USC golfer Candie Kung took the title at Kemper Lakes Golf Club in suburban Chicago. Chen is the first medalist to lose after advancing to the championship match since Virada Nirapathpongporn fell to then-13-year-old Michelle Wie in 2003 at Ocean Hammock Golf Club in Palm Coast, Fla.
Chen, the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, also was hoping to join Lori Castillo and the late Heather Farr as the only champions of both the Girls’ Junior and WAPL.
Earlier this week, Chen, ranked 33rd in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WWAGR), shared medalist honors with fellow Trojan Annie Park, shooting 8-under 136 on the Jimmie Austin OU layout, which was designed by Perry Maxwell. Diaz-Yi, ranked No. 228 in the WWAGR to start the week, was the No. 28 seed in the 64-player match-play draw after shooting 4-over 148 in qualifying.
The Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship began with 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, with the low 64 scorers advancing to match play, which began on Wednesday. Five rounds of match play were conducted leading up to Saturday’s championship match.
The WAPL is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
“Winning this championship really means a lot to me,” said Diaz-Yi. “It’s my first real big win, and for it to be a USGA title just really tops it off.”
Playing under hot, sunny and breezy conditions, the players combined for just three birdies – all on the par-5 eighth hole – over 27 holes. Diaz-Yi just missed an eagle from 6 feet in the morning round, but won the hole with a 4. Both competitors birdied the hole in the afternoon round.
But Diaz-Yi, dressed in Virginia colors with an orange shirt and navy blue skirt, was more consistent throughout the match, shooting the equivalent of 1-over 73 – with the usual match-play concessions – in the morning 18 compared to Chen’s 81. She played even-par golf over the nine holes of the afternoon round, while Chen finished 13 over for the 27 holes.
The key, Diaz-Yi said, was grinding out 4- and 5-foot par putts on a setup that featured a plethora of challenging hole locations.
“I knew under [par] wasn’t going to be something you had to strive for today with these winds and pin placements,” said Diaz-Yi. “Today I just wanted to hit fairways, greens, [have a] two-putt par and just get out of there. I think just striving for the par was good enough.
“I don’t think I’ve ever made that many clutch inside-5-foot putts that actually mattered in my life of golf.”
Diaz-Yi, who said Friday afternoon she was going to take a relaxed approach to the final, did appear calm as the match began. But after locking up her first USGA victory, she admitted to having trouble sleeping Friday night.
“When I woke up [Saturday] morning, I was … slightly nauseous,” she admitted. “I was like, ‘Maybe the nerves are kicking in.’ But when I was warming up, I was just trying to stay focused, have a good rhythm to my swing – nothing technical – but just play my own game. And it worked out.”
Diaz-Yi built a 4-up lead through nine holes and increased it to 5 up with a winning par on the short par-4 10th hole. Chen won her only hole of the match at No. 11, but immediately gave it back on the par-3 12th when she missed a 7-foot par putt.
The next six holes were halved with pars.
A frustrated Chen immediately went to the practice green after lipping out a 5-foot par putt on the 18th hole to go 6 down at the lunch break. But her play, especially her putting, didn’t improve.
“I was very tired and other than that, I had the wrong yardage pretty much the whole day,” said Chen, who will compete at next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. “My swing was not working and my energy was just not there. Once my body wasn’t there, it really doesn’t matter how my mind works.”
Diaz-Yi continued applying the pressure in the afternoon, winning four of the first five holes with pars to take a 10-up lead, halving the final four holes, including a short 3-foot par putt on the par-4 27th hole which sealed the win. She was congratulated by 2013 WAPL quarterfinalist and future Virginia teammate Briana Mao as well as other contestants and golf course staff. Even Chen’s USC teammates, Park and defending WAPL champion Kyung Kim, offered the new champion a congratulatory hug.
“I was shocked at how Doris played,” said Diaz-Yi, whose summer schedule will include the Canadian Women’s Amateur in Quebec, the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort and the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). “She looked a little tired. Doris wasn’t herself today. I think if she was playing that 8-under round like she did earlier in the week [during stroke play], it would have been an even tougher match.
“But I had a lot of fun playing today. It was good. She made me really grind it out there and make those clutch putts.”