by Ray McCarthy
BEDMINSTER, N.J. — When Donald Trump tells you he’s enjoyed watching you play, you must be doing something right.
Jordan Spieth was standing in front of the scoreboard juggling a mix of emotions – he had just gotten done beating a good friend in the semifinals of the U.S. Junior – when he was approached by The Donald.
“He said, ‘It’s been a pleasure watching you play this week,’ ” said Spieth. “It was cool.”
The compliment helped ease some of the sting Spieth felt from outlasting good friend Logan Harrell, 1 up, in one of the tournament’s most riveting matches. The back-and-forth battle gave Spieth a berth in the final of the U.S. Junior and exorcised any demons that remained from last year’s Junior. Attempting to become the youngest U.S. Junior champ in history, Spieth lost to Evan Beck, 1 up, in the semifinals last year.
“I think I’ve handled the pressure a little better this year,” said Spieth, who is attempting to become the first medalist to win the title since Matthew Rosenfeld in 2000. “Tomorrow, we’ll see how I handle the pressure.”
That pressure will come in the form of Hwang, a virtual unknown in the junior golf world. He has one AJGA start this year, a second-place finish at the Preseason Junior at Marshalia Ranch.
Hwang, who moved to the U.S. from Taiwan just last year, plays most of his golf on the PGA Southern California Junior Tour and its Toyota Tour Cup Series. He beat Nicholas Reach, 3 and 2, in the semis.
“(I’ve) got a chance,” Hwang said. “I just have to keep hitting good shots.”
Finalists of the U.S. Junior receive exemptions to the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills, which will be held August 24-30. When an unwitting Hwang was told this, he said he may now have to cancel a previously scheduled AJGA start that week.
“Of course I’ll play!” Hwang said when asked if he would play in the U.S. Am.
But before that arrives, Spieth and Hwang will focus on tomorrow’s match.
The two enter the final on different ends of the junior golf spectrum.
Spieth, the No. 1-ranked player in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, is a three-time winner with the AJGA, including last year’s Ping Invitational. He has not finished outside the top 10 in an AJGA event since October 2007. That’s 11 consecutive top-10 finishes.
“We’re just proud that he’s a good kid,” said Shawn Spieth, Jordan’s father. “He’s got a big heart. He’s humble.”
Spieth was humbled slightly in his semifinal match against Harrell. The two traded birdies in front of a large gallery that included Trump for most of the day.
Spieth was 4 up through six, but Harrell birdied Nos. 9 and 10 and then sank a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 11 to square the match. He pumped his fist and let out a fierce, “Let’s go!”
“I knew I had momentum at that point,” said Harrell. “I got down early but made a great comeback.”
The par-5 15th was the most pivotal hole of the match. Harrell missed a 12-footer for birdie while Spieth made his 10-foot birdie putt to take a 1-up lead. Harrell followed with a three-putt bogey on No. 16 and went 2 down. Spieth closed out the match with a 3-footer for par on No. 18.
Afterward, the two embraced and shared a few words.
“It’s tough. I couldn’t be happier for him, though,” Harrell said afterward. “(I learned) I could play with the best of them.
“I said, ‘That was a hell of a fight,’ ” Spieth said of their exchange. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me. I want you to go out there (tomorrow) and dominate.’ ”
Standing in his way will be Hwang, an unassuming 16-year-old who learned the game in Taiwan by going to the range with his grandmother. Talking to Hwang, one might get the impression he doesn’t realize the magnitude of his position. That may be the reason he’s made it so far.
“I might be more nervous tomorrow,” Hwang said. “But I’m very happy.”
Asked if he thinks he might have any trouble sleeping Friday night, Hwang was quick to answer.
“I hope not,” he said.
After a 36-hole final Saturday, sleep will come easily to both players. Then again, maybe just one will sleep well.
JUNIOR GIRLS COVERAGE:
By JULIE WILLIAMS
First Amy Anderson emerged as an unlikely medalist in stroke-play qualifying for the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Then she cruised to the quarterfinals, knocked out junior powerhouse Victoria Tanco, 2 and 1, and fought back from a three-hole deficit to make it to tomorrow’s final match at Trump National.
Anderson, the 17-year-old North Dakota native who doesn’t play between September and January and spends most of her summer at home practicing instead of on the road at AJGA events, has a very solid match lined up for Saturday: 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kimberly Kim.
“I’m still the underdog,” Anderson said after closing out her semifinal match against Luz Alejandra Cangrejo on the 19th hole, No. 10, when Cangrejo leaked her tee shot right into a hazard and had to re-tee.
Anderson was 3-down after No. 7, but began chipping away at Cangrejo’s lead with a birdie on the par-5 8th. She won another when Cangrejo triple-bogied the par-3 10th. Anderson got tangled in fescue on 15, giving one back, before winning 16 and 17. All square on 18, Anderson chunked a chip behind the green before holing her fourth shot from the fringe to force the extra hole.
“It was the question of whether to putt it or chip it,” she said. “There was too much scruffy grass to putt it so I decided to chip it.”
Tomorrow will be Anderson’s first appearance in a USGA final, and she is playing competitive match play this week for just the second time in her career (the first was at last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior when she was knocked out in the Round of 64).
As Kim, of Hilo, Hawaii, chases her second USGA championship, tomorrow will mark her fourth appearance in a USGA final. If she manages to be the one still standing at the end of 36 holes, she will be just the sixth player in history to win both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
“I really, really want to win. I wouldn’t like to be runnner up twice in one summer, that’s kind of lame,” Kim said, referring to her appearance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links final.
The 17-year-old knocked out Doris Chen, 5 and 4, in a semifinal match that included a holed pitch from 57 yards out with a 60-degree wedge. Add a putter that was so consistent it surprised even its owner, and Kim’s round of 7-under in the 14 holes she played is no surprise.
“I kind of had a good feeling and I rarely have a good feeling so it was kind of cool,” Kim said of her round. “I made a lot of putts and I knew (Chen) was a good putter. Everthing was falling for me so that’s how it goes.”
Before meeting Kim, Chen took down 13-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn in the quarterfinals, 3 and 2, and never let her opponent have a lead in that match. Despite a style of play that reveals few emotions, Chen said she was nervous to play Jutanugarn after she eliminated Alexis Thompson in the Round of 16.
“I was hitting pretty consistent today,” Chen said of the match. “I was just keeping pars and some birdies.”
In Kim’s morning match against Jennifer Johnson, the 2007 Rolex Tournament of Champions winner and 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, Kim took a narrow victory that came down to the par-4 18th.
Kim survived a close call on the 18th when she missed the green right and lipped out a 3-footer for par. Johnson also missed her 5-footer for par after hitting the green in regulation.
The round left a bad taste in Kim’s mouth that she managed to easily overcome in the semifinals.
“When I finished my round against Jennifer, I wasn’t making my putts so I was nervous about the next round, about my putting,” she said. “And then for some reason everything kept faling for the second one.”
The biggest problem Kim now faces is securing a caddy for tomorrow’s 36-hole final. Fellow competitior Annie Park, knocked out in the Round of 64, has looped for the last 72 holes. After Park backed out for the final, Kim took to her phone Friday afternoon, texting every other player she could think of who might carry the bag.
• • •
Julie Williams is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach her e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
View results for U.S. Junior Amateur Golf Champonship