Kaitlyn Papp (L) and Hailee Cooper (R) hold U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball trophy (USGA Photo)
BOWLING GREEN, FL (May 25, 2016) - In only its second staging, the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship is a youngster among USGA championships.
So are the winners the competition is producing.
For the second consecutive year, a pair of high school golfers walked away with the trophy, but their victory over a pair of middle-schoolers required overtime.
Texans Hailee Cooper, 16, of Montgomery, and Kaitlyn Papp, 17, of Austin, needed 19 holes to defeat 13-year-old Californians Angelina Kim, of Los Angeles, and Brianna Navarrosa, of San Diego, in Wednesday’s championship match on the 6,216-yard, par-72 Streamsong Blue at Streamsong Resort.
In the inaugural competition last year at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, graduating IMG Academy senior Rinko Mitsunaga teamed with sophomore schoolmate Mika Liu to win the title. All four semifinal sides in 2015 were 18 years of age or younger.
This year, the final wasn’t decided until Kim and Navarrosa both three-putted for their only bogey of the match on the par-4 first hole. Navarrosa pushed her 10-foot par putt and Kim lipped out from 4 feet. Papp had already secured her side’s par by converting from 4 feet, although Cooper did have a 25-foot birdie putt to win that raced past the hole. It marked the third time on Wednesday that the Kim-Navarrosa side lost the first hole.
Papp, No. 70 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) who has verbally committed to the University of Texas in 2017, became the second Lake Travis High golfer to win a USGA championship in the past two years, following Kristen Gillman’s 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur victory.
“It’s crazy to have my name as a USGA champion along with Tiger Woods and so many other great players,” said Papp. “It’s just unbelievable.
“[Kristen] and I are really good friends and I know she was pulling for us the whole way. And then [2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and 2015 Women’s Amateur Four-Ball runner-up] Hannah O’Sullivan texted us after our match, congratulating us in becoming USGA champs, so that was really cool.”
Wearing matching turquoise shirts and white skirts, Cooper and Papp played the equivalent of 3-under par golf – with the usual match-play concessions – on the 3-year-old Tom Doak design.
When the match concluded, both winners embraced their fathers, who caddied for them all week, before congratulating the tearful eighth-graders, who won’t graduate from high school until 2020.
Kim was bidding to become the third-youngest USGA champion by two days over 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links (WAPL) champion Michelle Wie. Both were competing in their first USGA championship.
Neither Papp nor Cooper, No. 962 in the WAGR, had made it to even the Round of 16 in a USGA championship. Papp had been eliminated in the first round of match play in two U.S. Girls’ Juniors and one WAPL, while Cooper reached the Round of 32 in last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. Both were members of the victorious 2015 USA Junior Solheim Cup Team and 2015 first-team American Junior Golf Association Rolex All-Americans.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Cooper. “On the 19th green, it was kind of a realization like, wow, we just did it after all these holes we just played and after a tough match.”
Papp, the winner of the 2015 AJGA Girls Championship, got the momentum rolling early with consecutive winning birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 from 16 and 10 feet, respectively.
After Kim drove the 315-yard, par-4 sixth hole and made an eagle 2 to trim the deficit by one, Cooper, the 2015 champion of the AJGA’s KPMG Stacy Lewis All-Star Invitational, restored the 2-up advantage with a birdie at the eighth hole.
All week, through two stroke-play rounds and five matches, the spunky Kim and Navarrosa wowed spectators and officials with their talent and youthful spirit. That grit continued on the inward nine as they battled to square the match. Cooper and Papp helped by making their lone bogey at No. 11, and Navarrosa converted a 9-foot birdie on the par-5 14th hole to square the match for the first time.
The sides halved the remaining four holes with pars. With their opponents already in for par on No. 18, Navarrosa calmly converted an 8-foot par putt to force extra holes.
“We gave it a good run,” said Navarrosa. “I'll say that. It's actually … our first time [in a USGA championship] and we made it really past our goal. I'm happy. I'm fine.”
Added Kim: “We both beat amazing players [this week]. Even though we were 2 down in the beginning, we just kept thinking that we could do it. We have tough minds, so we knew we could go all the way.”
In the semifinals on Wednesday morning, Kim and Navarrosa ousted stroke-play medalists Pauline Del Rosario and Princess Mary Superal, of the Philippines, 3 and 2, while Cooper and Happ eliminated the oldest remaining side, Alexandra Austin, 23, of Burke, Va., and 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Lauren Greenlief, 25, of Oakton, Va., 4 and 3.
Kim and Navarrosa were the equivalent of 4 under par for the 16 holes. They lost the opening hole, but won five of the next nine to take a commanding lead.
Cooper and Papp never trailed, building as much as a 5-up lead through 13 holes. Papp nearly aced the 315-yard, par-4 sixth hole, hitting her drive to 5 feet for a conceded eagle. The side was the equivalent of 5 under for the 15 holes.
All four semifinalists are exempt from qualifying for next year’s championship, provided the sides remain intact.
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