by Julie Williams
PINEHURST, N.C. – As Katelyn Dambaugh stood next to the scoreboard at the Country Club of North Carolina Friday afternoon, it was hard to imagine her life getting much better.
At least until next month.
Dambaugh, making her USGA debut at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, blew through the quarterfinals and semifinals, not only securing a spot in Saturday’s 36-hole final, but also a berth into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. At first, Dambaugh wasn’t sure what to say. A spot in the Women’s Amateur?
“That’s cool. I didn’t even know about that,” said Dambaugh, her grey-green eyes beginning to get wide.
A few minutes later, as she delivered the news to her parents, her incredible good fortune began to sink in. The U.S. Women’s Amateur will take place in Charlotte on Aug. 9-15. By some incredible planetary alignment, the first round will commence the night after Justin Bieber performs in the same city.
And you had better believe Dambaugh has tickets.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior is Dambaugh’s big event for this summer, and one she decided to qualify for partly because of its close proximity to her home in Goose Creek, S.C. – a town just under four hours away. For Dambaugh, the Bieber/Charlotte connection was a fitting end to a very long day of golf during which she took down 13-year-old Stephanie Liu, 3 and 2, before really getting excited and blowing through her afternoon match against Ally McDonald, 7 and 6.
Dambaugh, 15, all but sealed the latter match after making a four-hole run starting at No. 5 that put her 5 up entering the eighth hole.
“I was kind of getting into it a little bit, I was just getting kind of amped,” Dambaugh said, fidgeting in her chair and grinning at the memory.
Once she had the momentum in her favor, Dambaugh went straight for the jugular, knocking in a left-to-right breaking six-footer to tie No. 9, then winning the 10th when McDonald missed her par putt. Dambaugh and McDonald would tie the par-4 11th before Dambaugh won with a par at the 12th.
“I was playing really well at the end of the first match so I just went off that to the second one and just started off really good,” Dambaugh explained.
Katelyn Dambaugh (left) shakes hands with Ally McDonald after picking up a 7-and-6 win.
McDonald was awe-inspired by Dambaugh’s play, but still is thankful for her run in Pinehurst. A Mississippi State commit, McDonald started the morning by knocking off top-ranked Victoria Tanco, 1 up. She just couldn’t match Dambaugh’s firepower in the afternoon.
“It’s just one of those days where you try to do everything that you can and you just can’t get it going,” she said. “It was just one of those days.”
The only player standing between Dambaugh and a perfect week in Pinehurst is Doris Chen. Dambaugh will enter the final match as the local favorite of sorts – and with a very large gallery when a horde of her friends from home show up for the final – but Chen has experience on her side. She reached the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior before falling to eventual runner-up Kimberly Kim. Chen, who has verbally committed to USC, came to Pinehurst hoping to avenge last year’s near-miss.
“I think it would be very nice if I win my last U.S. Girls,” Chen said. “I (was) actually expecting it before I play this.”
Chen, 17, displayed nearly flawless play Friday, taking down medalist Danielle Kang in the quarterfinals. Chen went 16 holes before making a bogey in her match against Kang, and then sealed the win when she dropped a 6-footer for birdie on top of Kang’s 12-foot birdie putt to enter the final hole dormie.
Chen is not just one of the most consistent players in the field, but also the most reserved. Her expression is the same whether she birdies or bogeys, and just once during Friday’s two matches did Chen display excitement: When she matched Kang’s birdie in the morning.
For Chen, it’s no different than she’s always played. Staying calm is just her thing.
After struggling to find her game over the winter – she hasn’t finished higher than 12th in three AJGA invitational appearances so far this season – Chen is happy to have a handle on her game once again. She can’t name any specifics that are working better than they were, but still can tell the difference in her play.
“It’s just when you play a tournament, you know where you should improve,” she explained.
If her afternoon match is any indication, Chen’s improvement is not just noticeable, it’s marked. Chen cruised to a 4-and-3 win over 14-year-old Gyeol Park in the semifinals. Park never had a lead, and won only one hole – the par-4 seventh.
“She was really good,” Chen said of Park’s game. “Just maybe unlucky for her today.”
Unlucky, perhaps, to meet Chen in her prime.
View results for U.S. Girls' Junior Golf Championship