Min Woo Lee (L) and Noah Goodwin (R)
OOLTEWAH, TN (July 22, 2016) -- Noah Goodwin, 16, of Corinth, Texas, and Min Woo Lee, 17, of Australia, each won quarterfinal and semifinal matches Friday to advance to Saturday’s 36-hole final match of the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Honors Course. The final is scheduled to begin at 7:20 a.m. EDT.
Goodwin, who reached the Round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur and qualified for match play in the 2015 U.S. Amateur, edged John Pak, 17, of Scotch Plains, N.J., in 20 holes in the semifinals. Lee, the No. 3 seed who won last year’s Western Australia Amateur, posted a 1-up victory against Eugene Hong, 16, of Sanford, Fla., the No. 2 seed.
“Absolutely incredible,” said Goodwin, who upended Fred Lee, 16, of Australia, 5 and 4, in the quarterfinals earlier in the morning. “Everything I’ve been grinding toward every single day, it’s been to get to the finals here this week.”
The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
“Go win it,” said Lee about his mindset for the championship match. “I’ve been playing great. I have nothing against the way I am playing.”
Goodwin, who nearly ended matters against Pak on the first extra hole when he left a 14-foot birdie putt short, fired a 217-yard 4-iron to within 9 feet to set up an eagle putt on the par-5 second, the 20th hole of the match on the par-72, 7,326-yard Pete Dye layout. Meanwhile, Pak hit a wayward tee shot that left him with an awkward lie near a bunker. His second shot resulted in an unplayable lie and he eventually conceded the hole and the match.
Pak appeared to have the upper hand earlier in the back-and-forth battle when he drilled a 196-yard 5-iron within close range on the par-4 15th. But Goodwin took a 1-up lead when he made a downhill 20-foot birdie putt over a ridge and Pak missed from 5 feet. Pak would square the match with a birdie on the next hole when he holed a 30-footer over a ridge.
“I was trying to make the par honestly,” said Pak, who has reached match play in three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateurs and was a quarterfinalist last year. “I hit it really hard, and luckily there was a hole there, so it was awesome. That gave me confidence.”
Each player made par on No. 17 and bogey on No. 18 before Pak’s tee shot on the 19th hole landed near a natural sandy area. He later halved the hole with a par when he lifted a nifty chip shot from in front of the green to within 2½ feet.
Lee, whose sister, Minjee, won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior and owns two LPGA Tour victories, grabbed a 2-up advantage early in his semifinal, including a 35-yard chip for an eagle on the par-5 second. Hong, who was a semifinalist for the second consecutive year, would eventually square the match with a two-putt par on No. 11.
Lee, who has won a pair of Western Australia Juniors, then reeled off three consecutive birdies to win holes 12, 13, 14 and post a 3-up margin. He struck his approach to within 8 feet on the par-4 12th to ignite the run, sank a 22-foot birdie putt on the following hole and then made a left-to-right 10-footer on the par-3 14th.
“You know, I just have to thank the putter,” said Lee, who defeated Brandon Gillis, 17, of Nashua, N.H., 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals. “Those were exactly momentum-changers. It was kind of like a cushion going into the other holes.”
Lee, who is competing in his first USGA championship, would need that advantage to close out Hong, who won holes 15 and 17 with a par and birdie, respectively, to cut the deficit. However, Lee would survive with a bogey on the final hole when his opponent’s third shot went long and left of the green.
In the quarterfinals against Fred Lee, Goodwin, who is No. 35 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, won four of the opening six holes with three birdies and one par. He hit a 5-iron approach on No. 4 that came back off the slope to within 6 feet to set up a birdie and a 3-up lead. Goodwin added an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 sixth.
Min Woo Lee, who is No. 131 in the WAGR™, eagled the par-5 sixth to take a 3-up lead in his quarterfinal against Gillis. Lee never trailed in the match and expanded to a four-hole advantage when he birdied the par-3 14th.
Pak edged Won Jun Lee, 17, of the Republic of Korea, the No. 3 seed, in the quarterfinals, 1 up. Lee, who advanced to the semifinals last year and has already qualified for this year’s U.S. Amateur, rallied from an early three-hole deficit. He won holes 10, 11 and 12 and later hit a 170-yard 7-iron to within 7 feet for a birdie and a 1-up advantage on No. 15. Pak would regain the lead with a 10-foot birdie putt on the next hole and a conceded short birdie putt on the par-5 17th. He wrapped up the victory with a two-putt par from 40 feet on the final hole.
Hong also trailed against Wei Wei Gao, 16, of the Philippines on the inward nine. He squared the match on No. 15 with a 6-foot birdie putt and delivered an 8-iron approach to within 13 feet to set up a winning two-putt par on the par-3 16th. His 7-foot par putt on No. 18 clinched the 1-up triumph.
Both finalists are exempt into this year’s U.S. Amateur, which will be held at Oakland Hills Country Club, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Aug. 15-21, and are exempt into 2017 U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
All quarterfinalists are exempt from qualifying for next year’s Junior Amateur as long as they are under age 19 before the end of the championship.
“You have to stay committed the entire time and stay patient with it,” said Goodwin about playing in a 36-hole final. “Philip [Barbaree] proved last year you can come back from big leads or you can lose big leads. You just have to take one shot at a time, one hole at a time.”
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