Grace Choi wins 95th Texas Women's Amateur
Grace Choi <br>(TXGA Photo)</br>
Grace Choi
(TXGA Photo)

DALLAS, TX (July 29, 2016) -- Grace Choi sighed, took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. Minutes after she poured in three consecutive birdies and followed them with a clutch par save from a deep greenside bunker to win the 95th WTGA State Amateur Championship, 3 and 2, over Julie Houston, Choi had to explain how it all felt.

“It’s pretty incredible to have won this in my home state and in match play, which we don’t get to play very often,” said Choi, a senior at Michigan who dazzled the 20 or so gallery members who watched her play the final 11 holes at 3-under par. “And to do this on the 100th anniversary of Women’s Golf in Texas and here at Brook Hollow, it’s just … words can’t describe what it feels like.”

Through the first four matches of her title run, Choi never trailed in a single match. The Dallas native defeated a series of talented players, but none more determined than the scrappy Houston, a UT-San Antonio sophomore from Allen. Choi knew she wouldn’t get her hands on the WTGA State Amateur trophy without facing some adversity, and it came on the fifth hole of the Championship Match.

After she missed the fairway left, Choi pitched out of Brook Hollow’s ankle-deep rough and back into the fairway. She hit a 3-wood short of the green and then spun a wedge shot to 4 feet from the hole. After Houston made her par putt, Choi lipped hers out. Suddenly she was 1-down for the first time all week.

“I knew this was going to be a tough match,” said Choi, a First-Team All-Big 10 Selection after a pair of top-5 finishes last season. “I just tried to stay as calm as I possibly could when I was 1 down. I knew there were a lot more holes left, which helps. On this golf course, you can make a mistake or make a birdie on any hole.”

After the hiccup on the fifth hole, Choi was finished with the mistakes. The birdies were about to come. Houston, who won back-to-back college events for UTSA last season, stumbled on the seventh hole when she drove it into the trees and made double bogey. That brought the match to all square. She missed the green on the picturesque par-3 eighth hole, which led to bogey. Choi two-putted from 35 feet to grab a 1-up lead that she’d never relent.

For the next hour, the two evenly matched competitors took turns dissecting the A.W. Tillinghast- designed fairways. They traded crisply struck iron shots that routinely found the bentgrass putting surfaces. Choi and Houston matched each other par for par until the 13th hole, when Choi flew a wedge shot over a tree and onto the green about 25 feet from the hole. Moments later she curled in the slick, left-to-right breaker for birdie. Houston missed her birdie try from 20 feet to give Choi a 2-up advantage.

“For some reason when I got to that putt, I saw the line immediately,” Choi said. “I knew if I hit it with the right speed it was going to go in.”

Choi followed that with birdies on the next two holes. She was 3 up with four holes to play when she made the third consecutive birdie, a 14-footer on the 15th hole that dripped over the front edge of the hole with barely a revolution to spare. Houston, meanwhile, had 8 feet left for her birdie. She knew if she missed it, the match would be over.

“That was probably one of the most stressful putts I’ve ever had,” Houston said. “I felt confident, though. I’d been putting so well all day, but I hadn’t made anything. I felt like, ‘This is my putt. This is my hole.’ When I made it I was really happy because that was a fight to make it.”

Houston nearly aced the uphill, 188-yard par-3 15th. She hit a low bullet with her 21-degree hybrid; the ball bounced on the front edge of the green and rolled just past the hole. Choi dumped her hybrid shot into the front right bunker, one of 95 cavernous sand traps on historic golf course. Choi splashed out to 10 feet and calmly rolled in the putt. When Houston’s birdie try sailed past the hole, the match was over.

“I never felt comfortable until we were dormie,” said Choi, who in 2013 at Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High School won the UIL Class 4A State Championship and set records for total score (8-under par) and margin of victory (12 strokes). “I didn’t know Julie before today, but she earned her way to the Championship Match. I knew she could make birdie at any time, like she did on 15.”

Choi had support from about 10 family members and friends, including her mom Tiffany, dad Troy and boyfriend Graeme Hamilton. Grandparents Steve and Wah Song and great uncle Ildo Kim also walked the fairways and cheered on Choi.

Houston had a rooting section, too. Her parents John and Janet Houston, as well as her older brother Jeff, were thrilled with the way Houston fought back and competed with guts and class. Janet was in attendance all week and walked alongside every hole of her daughter’s groups.

For both competitors, the 95th WTGA State Amateur was their final event of the summer. Both head back to school soon, but they have different long-term goals. Houston plans to turn professional after college and wants to make a name for herself on the LPGA Tour.

Choi isn’t as interested in that.

“I like amateur golf,” said Choi, a two-time Academic All-American and Economics Major. “All the competitors who came out here this week, people who maybe competed in college 20 years ago and are a lot older than I am and are still playing golf, that’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to enjoy the game for the rest of my life, and I don’t know if going pro would really accomplish that. It might be unnecessary stress. I want to play golf for fun.”

Choi achieved that goal during the weeklong championship at Brook Hollow. After a 5-over 76 in Tuesday’s Qualifying Round, Choi on Wednesday defeated Autumn Bynum of Montgomery, 5 and 3, in the Round of 32. Choi then took down Amber Park of Allen, 4 and 3 in the Round of 16. On Thursday, Choi got past Brielle Ward of Frisco, 4 and 3, in the Quarterfinals. In the Semifinals, Choi cruised to a 7- and-6 victory over Maty Monzingo from Trophy Club to set up Friday’s Championship Match against Houston.

On Thursday, Katharine Patrick of West University Place won the 18-hole Consolation Bracket Championship with an even-par 72. The 56 players who didn’t qualify for the Championship Bracket after Tuesday’s Qualifying Round were divided up into seven match play flights based on their GHIN Handicap Indexes.

ABOUT THE Texas Women's Amateur

Field Limit: Lowest handicap indexes in multiples of 8 with a maximum of 88 players. In the event the championship becomes over-subscribed, entries will be accepted in order of handicap index.

Format: The 32 players with the lowest qualifying scores will fill the Championship flight and contend for the title. The qualifying round is optional for all but the players with the 32 lowest handicap indexes. The 16 players eliminated in the first round of Championship flight match play may participate in an 18-hole Stroke Play consolation round. Remaining players will be flighted into seven flights of eight based on handicap. The four players eliminated in the first round will proceed to a consolation match play bracket for each flight.

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