Noh ends marathon day as U.S. Girls' Junior champion
Yealimi Noh (USGA photo)
Yealimi Noh (USGA photo)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (July 21, 2018) – The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere – commonly called the Summer Solstice – usually occurs on June 21. After what occurred on Saturday at Poppy Hills Golf Course, U.S. Girls’ Junior finalists Yealimi Noh, 16, of Concord, Calif., and Alexa Pano, 13, of Lake Worth, Fla., might offer a different viewpoint.

Exactly a month after the solstice, Noh played 49 holes of high-intensity golf in claiming the fog-plagued championship with a 4-and-3 victory over Pano.

Fittingly, thick fog rolled in not long after the championship match was decided. It is believed to be the most holes of golf ever played on the final day of a USGA championship dating to 1895, the year the Association began conducting national championships.

Due to the nearly 16 hours of fog delays this week, including 30 minutes before Saturday morning’s semifinal matches, the USGA came up with a revised schedule on Friday that called for the Semifinals and the first 18 of the scheduled 36-hole championship match to be contested on Saturday, with the final 18 spilling over to Sunday morning.

But when players inquired about getting the entire 36-hole final done on Saturday, the USGA discussed the idea and offered both finalists an option. Noh and Pano are both headed to different competitions next week – Pano to the Wyndham Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition that starts on Monday at Old Sandwich Club in Plymouth, Mass.; and Noh to the Canadian Women’s Amateur in British Columbia – and mutually agreed to play as much golf as possible to avoid an extra day of play.

It’s a decision neither competitor regretted in hindsight, even if Pano had to play 51 holes on Saturday.

By winning the championship, Noh also earned an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.

“I mean, it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Noh of becoming a USGA champion. “It’s been such a long day, too. I just haven’t gotten to chance to fully realize what this all means, but it really means a lot to me. And to be able to win it right after [the Girls] Junior PGA [Championship], which is a really big accomplishment of mine. I knew I could do it, but I was a little unsure because I haven’t always had the best results in match play.”

Noh, who won last week’s Girls Junior PGA Championship in Lexington, Ky., with a record-24-under total of 264, recovered from an early 2-down deficit – the first time in six matches she fell behind by more than one hole – by winning three consecutive holes from No. 8 with birdies, two of which were par 5s. She drained a 20-foot uphill putt on No. 8, then reached the 514-yard ninth in two with a 3-hybrid from 240 yards, and adroitly two-putted for birdie. She was forced to lay up on the par-5 10th after a poor drive, but she knocked her third shot to 13 feet, which she converted.

Noh closed out the first 18 by hitting her 3-hybrid from 206 yards on the par-5 hole to 25 feet. Her eagle putt stopped 18 inches short of the hole for a conceded birdie. When Pano failed to convert from 10 feet, Noh had a 4-up lead at the break. Noh carded a 4-under 67 – with match-play concessions – to Pano’s even-par 71.

Momentum continued for Noh in the second 18 as she birdied Nos. 22 and 23 for a 6-up advantage. Pano did get two holes back with winning pars on Nos. 30 and 32, but Noh two-putted from 36 feet on the par-4 33rd hole to close out the match nearly 12 hours after play began.

“She played really solid the whole day,” said Pano of Noh. “I think in the beginning, I was just making some birdies, and she had some advantages on the par 5s, being able to be longer and to have easier shots into the greens. But I mean, overall, she just killed it the whole week and played insanely well. I can’t really complain with even par or 1 under and losing.”

In a semifinal match on Saturday morning between two past Drive, Chip & Putt national champions, Pano eliminated medalist and No. 1 seed Lucy Li, 15, of Redwood Shores, Calif., 1 up. The match was all square going to 18 when Pano, putting first, rolled in an 8-footer for birdie. Li, a member of last month’s victorious USA Curtis Cup Team, had a chance to force extra holes, but missed her slightly uphill 7-footer on the low side.

Noh, meanwhile, defeated incoming Duke University freshman Gina Kim, 18, of Chapel Hill, N.C., 3 and 2. Noh played bogey-free golf with four birdies in the 16-hole match.

ABOUT THE U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur

The Girls Junior Amateur is one of 14 national championships conducted by the USGA. The event is open to female golfers who have not reached their 19th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 9.4. 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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