USGA Girls Junior: Underway at Pinehurst

by Julie Williams

PINEHURST, N.C. (July 21, 2010) – If not for one very big magnolia tree at the 18th hole of the Country Club of North Carolina, the match-play bracket at the U.S. Girls’ Junior could look very different.

Despite making a run at top-seeded Danielle Kang in the Round of 64 Wednesday, Alejandra Cangrejo’s Junior run ended beneath the magnolia branches. Call it a sign of the south, a sign of bad luck or just a indication of the depth of the field here in Pinehurst, considering that a 64 seed could make such a serious run at the medalist.

Kang, who took stroke-play medalist honors Tuesday for the second time at a USGA event in the past year, got off to a fast start against Cangrejo, making the turn at 2 up. The tide turned quickly, however, as Kang logged bogeys at Nos. 11, 12 and 13 to fall one down to Cangrejo. Video There were some surprise winners Wednesday at the Country Club of North Carolina, including a 12-year-old girl in the mix. Julie Williams reports.

Girls’ Junior: Who advanced to Rd. of 32?

There were some surprise winners Wednesday at the Country Club of North Carolina, including a 12-year-old girl in the mix. Julie Williams reports.

It was a series of events that was anything but typical for the top match on the bracket, but after playing with Cangrejo in the past, Kang, a sophomore at Pepperdine, didn’t make the mistake of underestimating her opponent.

“I knew she shouldn’t have been a 64-seed, but whether that or not, everybody’s a competitor here and no matter what ranking you are, you’re here and you’re competing,” Kang said.

Cangrejo, who will play for Duke in the fall, didn’t even know if she had a spot on the match-play bracket until Wednesday morning after a six-for-five playoff was halted Tuesday evening for darkness. Cangrejo returned to the course early Wednesday and made a bogey at the par-5 12th to advance. It was a much different story from the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where Cangrejo advanced through the match-play bracket as the No. 21 seed, falling to eventual champion Amy Anderson in the semifinals.

“You’re always nervous because you never know what is going to happen the next day. Playoff and match, anything can happen,” she said of the morning. “I knew that I had to play against Danielle, which is a very good friend of mine. It was fun, we had a good match and I think I played very good, but she played better.”

After gaining ground on Kang in the middle of the back nine, Cangrejo lost a big hole at No. 16 when she missed a 6-footer to match Kang’s par. The pair would enter the final hole all square.

Kang boomed her drive down the fairway and Cangrejo hung hers right and into the magnolia. After a few minutes of contemplation, she took an unplayable lie, and left herself with a tricky shot that had to cut around the tree in order to stay out of a water hazard that bites into the left side of the fairway.

“The water could come into play if my ball didn’t cut so it was kind of tough, so it had to be somehow very close – a perfect shot,” she said.

Cangrejo delivered, but Kang capped the match off with an easy par to Cangrejo’s bogey and advanced to the Round of 32. After finishing stroke-play qualifying at 3-under 141, Kang admitted it was a little bit of a struggle Wednesday, especially as she saw more of the rough.

Still, Kang is happy to have one match under her belt, no matter how difficult it was to secure.

“It’s match play so nobody is really above anybody else,” she said. “Anything can happen in this game. Hopefully the next one will be as much fun as today.”

• • •

MENTAL PROWESS: Though she won’t be returning to the Country Club of North Carolina for the Round of 32, Gabriella Then proved Wednesday that she might have one of the best mental games in the field. Then staged a remarkable comeback in a grueling match against Victoria Tanco, Golfweek’s top-ranked player, only to fall on the second extra hole.

Then held her own against Tanco early in the match, never falling more than 1 down. The match was all square when the pair entered the 15th hole, where Then repaired a scuff mark on the green. Tanco consulted a rules official, and Then lost the hole as players are only allowed to repair old hole plugs on the green or damage caused from the impact of a golf ball (as stated in Rule 16-1c).

“That was not nice but we play by the rules and I was like, ‘Do I tell the (official) or not?’ ” Tanco explained. “I am a player that didn’t want to win the hole that way, but I told her because we play by the rules.”

Tanco got to 2 up after winning the par-3 16th with a birdie, but lost No. 17 with a wayward drive that led to a bogey. With the match on the line, Then drained a 10-footer for birdie to force extra holes.

The two matched pars at the first hole – as Then was forced to compete with a different caddie on the bag as her original looper was unable to continue in the intense heat – before Then put her drive at the second hole under a tree. She missed a 4-footer for par that would have kept her alive.

• • •

ANOTHER COMEBACK STORY: Karen Chung appeared to have her match against Summer Roachell in the bag after the 12th hole. Chung, a finalist at the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior, had taken the lead at the par-3 third and built it to 3 up by the 12th hole.

That’s when Roachell, a 15-year-old from Conway, Ark., set her comeback in motion. Roachell hung tough with a string of pars as Chung bogeyed Nos. 14 and 17, cutting the deficit to one hole.

“Everything just started working after that point,” Roachell said through a wide grin. “I knew I had to do something because I didn’t want to go home right now. I just kept fighting and really just kept making pars to put pressure on her.”

The real pressure, however, came at the 18th, when Roachell stuck her approach shot to within a foot of the hole and Chung conceded the birdie.

Walking to the first hole for sudden death, Roachell knew she had bogeyed the hole earlier that morning, but pushed those thoughts aside. Both players hit over the green at the par 4, and while Roachell chipped it to 4 feet and made the putt for par, Chung left two chips short and lost with a bogey.

Roachell exploded out of the gate in stroke-play qualifying with a 2-under 70 Monday backed it up with an 80 Tuesday. Still, she got her game back when it mattered.

“I’m playing good right now,” she said. “I struggled a little bit yesterday but not where it really killed me.”

• • •

STILL IN THE FIGHT: Add Kristen Park, who won the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior and is the only past champion in the field this week, to the list of players who are one-for-one on the match-play bracket. Park took down A.J. Newell, 4 and 3, courtesy of a solid round that included two birdies and just one bogey.

“The course fits me pretty well,” Park said of her consistent play so far this week.

For those keeping track at home, the win puts her even with Newell when it comes to head-to-head matches. Newell beat Park on the first extra hole at the AJGA’s Polo Junior Classic in November.

Park, who won the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions earlier this month, is gunning to win another U.S. Girls’ Junior title in her last year of eligibility, and is channeling good thoughts from 2007 to get it done.

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ABOUT THE U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur

The Girls Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the USGA. The event is open to female golfers who have not reached their 18th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 18.4. 36 hole stroke play qualifying from which 64 players advance to match play. Regional qualifying held at sites around the United States.

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