Yealimi Noh (USGA photo)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (July 20, 2018) – Medalist Lucy Li didn’t need to spend much time on
the golf course on Friday. A day after playing 43 holes in winning three matches, the 15-year-old from Redwood Shores, Calif., only required 14 in dispatching Doey Choi, 18, of Australia, to reach the semifinals of the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Poppy Hills Golf Course.
For the fourth consecutive day, fog delayed play, this time for nearly six hours, forcing USGA officials to push the quarterfinals to Friday afternoon, the semifinals and the first 18 of the scheduled 36-hole championship match to Saturday, and the second 18 to Sunday morning. Fog has now delayed play for more than 15 hours this week. The semifinals are scheduled to begin – weather permitting – at 7 a.m. PDT.
Four suspended Round-of-16 matches had to be completed on Friday due to fog.
Li, whose 36-hole qualifying score of 11-under-par 131 was one stroke off the championship record, won six consecutive holes from No. 8 to close out first-time U.S. Girls’ Junior competitor Choi, 5 and 4. Li was 2 down after two holes, including a three-putt bogey on the par-4 first, before embarking on a huge rally that began with a 7-foot birdie on the par-4 fifth hole. She eagled the par-5 10th to go 2 up when her long fairway-metal approach shot – “I was just trying to hit it into the [greenside] bunker” – got a fortunate bounce and stopped 10 feet from the flagstick.
From there, she won holes 11, 12 and 13 and halved 14 to close out what has been her quickest match of the week.
“At least I’ll get to rest,” said Li. “After all that golf [on Thursday], I went home and my feet hurt and my legs hurt, so it will be good to take some time off and get ready for a long day [on Saturday].”
Li will face a familiar foe in fellow past Drive, Chip & Putt national champion Alexa Pano, 13, of Lake Worth, Fla., who eliminated Suzuka Yamaguchi, 17, of Japan, 4 and 3. Pano played the equivalent of 1-under-par golf on the outward nine – with the usual match-play concessions – in building a commanding 5-up lead. In four matches this week, Pano has played just 61 holes.
“I just kind of stayed consistent,” said Pano, who won DCP age-group titles in 2016 and 2017. “I’m definitely excited. Lucy is a good friend and she’s a really strong player, so it should be a really good match.”
The other semifinal will pit No. 2 seed Yealimi Noh, 16, of Concord, Calif., fresh off a record-setting performance in last week’s Girls Junior PGA Championship in Lexington, Ky., against Gina Kim, 18, of Chapel Hill, N.C.
Noh did not lose a hole in defeating incoming Michigan State University freshman Valery Plata, 17, of Colombia, 7 and 5. Noh, who also claimed the Californian Girls Junior State Championship title last month at nearby Monterey Peninsula Country Club, was the equivalent of 3-under par over 13 holes. She reached the par-5 ninth and 10th holes in two shots with 4-irons, halving the former and winning the latter, both with birdies.
Noh seemingly is getting stronger and gaining momentum with each passing round.
“I think I kind of start out a little slow in the beginning, like my other matches and this one, as well, and once I get used to the course and playing [in] a tournament , instead of [just] practicing,” she said. “I’m getting used to it. I get a little in the mode and have that momentum, I guess.”
Kim, who defeated Ashley Gilliam, 17, of Manchester, Tenn., 4 and 3, overcame an early 1-down deficit – Gilliam birdied the first hole – to take a 2-up lead at the turn. The turning point came on the par-4 seventh when Gilliam’s approach found some native area behind the green and she eventually conceded Kim’s birdie. The lead mushroomed to 3 up when Gilliam’s tee shot on No. 12 went out of bounds. Kim won the 14th with a par and closed it out on the next hole.
In four matches this week, Kim has not played beyond the 16th hole. She was extended that far in her suspended Round-of-16 match earlier on Friday, defeating Yushino Yoshihara, 16, of Irvine, Calif., 3 and 2.