FORT WAYNE, Ind. (July 26, 2013) -- Gabriella Then and Lakareber Abe each won two matches on Friday and will meet in Saturday’s 36-hole final of the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
Then took a 1-up victory over Yueer Feng in Friday’s quarterfinal round, and reached the final with a 2-and-1 win over Megan Khang. Abe eliminated Kathleen Scavo, 4 and 3, in the quarterfinals, and advanced to the final with a 1-up victory over Bethany Wu.
The 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship is open to female amateur golfers under the age of 18. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Then never trailed in her semifinal win over Khang, but her road to victory was not easy. The 17-year-old from Upland, Calif., built a 3-up lead through five holes. But she stumbled with two bogeys and a double bogey over the next four holes, allowing Khang to square the match at the turn.
“I was just thinking on the new nine to get back in there and play aggressively,” said Then, who last month competed in her third U.S. Women’s Open. “I wouldn't let her win another hole.”
That plan worked. Then regained the lead when Khang bogeyed the par-4 10th and stretched it to 2 up when Khang bogeyed the par-3 11th. Then and Khang halved the remaining six holes, giving Then the win on the 17th green.
Then is competing in her final Girls’ Junior before joining the University of Southern California women’s golf team in the fall. To win in her final junior event would be a dream come true.
“It would put a cherry on top of my junior career,” said Then with a smile.
Abe and Wu battled in a true back-and-forth match, not halving a single hole between No. 2 and No. 13. Wu carried the initial advantage, winning the par-5 second with a birdie, and while Abe was able to square the match, she couldn’t take the lead. Abe termed that stretch as “tough.”
“I just told myself to stay in it, stay positive,” said Abe, who will attend the University of Alabama in the fall of 2014. “If I got an opportunity, (I would) jump on it as much as I could.”
Abe took her first lead with a birdie at the par-5 12th, but bogeyed the subsequent par-3 13th to square the match. Another birdie, this time at the par-4 16th, gave Abe the lead for good.
“I've been practicing really hard,” said Abe, whose previous best Girls’ Junior result was a first-round loss to Casie Cathrea in 2011 at Olympia Fields Country Club. “To play well, it means a lot.”
Abe and Then are good friends from their years of playing together on the American Junior Golf Association circuit. In fact, the teens roomed together at their last two events, the Scott Robertson Memorial (which Then won) and the AJGA’s Rolex Girls Junior Championship. But friendship will have to take a break for the competition at hand.
“At the end of the day, we're both out there for the same thing,” said Abe, shrugging her shoulders.
By reaching the final, Abe and Then earned exemptions into the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, which will be conducted Aug. 5-11 at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina. The winner will also receive an exemption into the 2014 Women’s Amateur. Both players will also be exempt into the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, if otherwise eligible.
Should she win, Abe would become the fourth African-American player and first female to win an individual USGA championship. She would join Bill Wright (1959 U.S. Amateur Public Links), Alton Duhon (1982 USGA Senior Amateur) and Tiger Woods (1991-93 U.S. Junior Amateur; 1994-96 U.S. Amateur; 2000, 2002, 2008 U.S. Open). Mariah Stackhouse (2009) and Amira Alexander (2011) have played on victorious Georgia teams at the USGA Women’s State Team Championship.
View results for U.S. Girls' Junior Golf Championship