Mika Liu came out firing on Monday (USGA photo)
SPRINGFIELD, Pennsylvania (August 1, 2016) – Mika Liu, at 5-under 66, sits alone atop the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship leader board after Monday’s first round of stroke play at the 6,259-yard, par-71 Rolling Green Golf Club.
Liu, 17, of Beverly Hills, Calif., holds a one-stroke lead over Lucy Li, 13, of Redwood Shores, Calif., and Yuka Saso, 15, of the Philippines. Six players sit two strokes behind at 3-under 68: 2016 Olympian Tiffany Chan, 22, of Hong Kong, China; 2016 Canadian Women’s Amateur champion Hye-Jin Choi, 16, of the Republic of Korea; Annika Clark, 19, of Highlands, Texas; 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball co-champion Hailee Cooper, 16, of Montgomery, Texas; 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Katelyn Dambaugh, 21, of Goose Creek, S.C.; and 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team member Mariel Galdiano, 18, of Pearl City, Hawaii.
The 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, conducted by the United States Golf Association, is open to female amateur golfers with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 5.4. It consists of two 18-hole rounds of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Sunday.
Liu’s short-game prowess is the strength of her game, and it certainly played to her advantage at Rolling Green. After making bogey on the par-4 13th (her fourth hole), Liu started to get a feel for her putter and short irons. The 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team member birdied seven of her remaining 14 holes, including a dart to 1 foot on No. 7, to go with one additional bogey.
“My putter was on fire,” said Liu, who has verbally committed to attend Stanford University in the fall of 2017. “I didn't expect all my golf balls to go in, but they did.”
Liu already has one USGA title to her name, teaming with Rinko Mitsunaga to win the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2015 at Bandon Dunes. Mitsunaga, a rising sophomore at the University of Georgia, carded a 2-under 69 and sits tied for 10th.
Li captured the attention of the golf world in 2014 when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open Championship at age 10. She has grown a few inches since then, and her golf game has also matured. The teenager hit all 18 greens at Rolling Green, the first time she accomplished the feat, in a bogey-free round of 4-under 68.
“I could have made some more putts,” said Li, who reached the Round of 16 in last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior. “I didn't hit them super close because this golf course is really long. I hit a lot of hybrids into the greens.”
Saso, who won the 2016 Philippine Junior Match Play Championship in May, also returned a bogey-free round of four birdies for her 4-under 68. She is playing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur, and like Liu pointed to her short game as the primary reason for her strong opening round.
“My short game was pretty good,” said Saso, a ninth-grader whose only previous USGA championship experience is a Round-of-32 showing in the 2014 U.S. Girls’ Junior. “My putting touch was really good, so I was able to really get the speeds out there.”
Chan is one of three amateurs who will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rather than walking in Friday’s Opening Ceremony, Chan elected to compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur as preparation for her time in Rio. That decision paid off, as Chan, a rising senior at the University of Southern California, hit 17 of 18 greens and carded five birdies and two bogeys.
“I think I did a pretty good job today,” said Chan. “I just hit it close and gave myself good enough chances for birdies.”
Two-time U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Eun Jeong Seong, who is trying to become the first person to win the Girls’ Junior and Women’s Amateur in the same year, returned three birdies and one bogey for a 2-under 69. She is one of eight players tied for 10th, a group that includes 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team member Bailey Tardy, her Georgia teammate Mitsunaga and incoming University of South Carolina freshman Anita Uwadia, who in 2014 became the first Nigerian player to compete in a USGA championship at the Girls’ Junior.
Margaret Shirley-Starosto, who has reached the finals of the last three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships with a victory in 2015, carded the comeback round of the day. After bogeying four of her opening five holes, Shirley-Starosto, 30, of Roswell, Ga., converted six birdies to one bogey to finish her round at 1-under 70. She is joined by eight other players, including 2015-16 NCAA Freshman of the Year Cheyenne Knight, 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball co-runner-up Robynn Ree, and 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team member Bethany Wu.
Andrea Lee, who was runner-up to Seong in the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior; 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman; 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball co-champion Kaitlyn Papp; and 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Gabriella Then are among 16 players tied for 36th at 1-over 72.
Sierra Brooks, the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up, struggled en route to a 4-over 75.
Defending champion Hannah O’Sullivan is not in the field after competing in last week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open Championship with an exemption she earned by virtue of her 2015 victory. The U.S. Women’s Amateur champion traditionally receives an exemption into four major professional championships – the U.S. Women’s Open, the Women’s British Open, the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship.
The match-play rounds of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. Coverage will be from 3-6 p.m. EDT Wednesday through Friday, and from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Exclusive bonus coverage will be streamed live on usga.org on Thursday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon.