Lucy Li (USGA photo)
KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. (Aug. 9, 2018) – The biggest story of a double-round day at the U.S. Women’s Amateur took the longest to unfold. The favorite, Yealimi Noh, fell at the hands of Bailey Tardy after a 23-hole battle at the Golf Club of Tennessee.
It’s a hard thing continuing a streak as impressive as Noh’s. Entering the U.S. Women’s Amateur, she had won the Girls’ Junior PGA Championship, U.S. Girls’ Junior and Canadian Women’s Amateur in three consecutive weeks. On Thursday morning in the Round of 32, she came up against Bailey Tardy, who had just enough birdies in her to push the match to five extra holes. Tardy eventually won with an eagle at the par-5 fifth.
For Tardy, it’s a breakthrough in what has been a down year. After competing in LPGA Q-School in the fall, the Georgia standout only teed it up in two tournaments for the Bulldogs, carding a round in the 80s to end each one. She was sidelined with an injury the rest of the season.
Tardy’s hard-fought victory came on the heels of a Georgia Women’s Amateur win last month. The only bad news for the former Curtis Cupper, who happened to turn 22 on Wednesday, was that she drew 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman in the afternoon.
Noh may have had the best winning streak going, but Gillman arguably has the best mojo flowing with her game. The Alabama junior led the Crimson Tide to a runner-up finish at the national championship, qualified for and finished T-27 at the U.S. Women’s Open, went 5-0 at the Curtis Cup and won a professional event on the JLPGA already this summer.
After knocking off Tardy, 5 and 4, in an afternoon interrupted by a quick thunderstorm, Gillman is quickly rising to favorite status.
“To be able to win something like this, you have to be on your game every single day,” said Gillman, who was 16 when she won in 2014. “I don't think you can really have an off day, and I think that's just how golf is. I made it to at least the round of 32 every single year I've played, and so I'm pretty proud of that. But I think you just have to keep staying on your game.”
USGA match-play events can feel like one big game of dominoes, though. Gillman’s reward for reaching the quarterfinals is a date with Lucy Li, a Curtis Cup teammate who was co-medalist in stroke play.
Li got the No. 1 seed, and has made short work of her three opponents so far. There was a 7-and-5 victory over Alice Duan first thing Thursday morning, and a 2-and-1 victory over Ya Chun Chan in the afternoon. Li’s position on the bracket has worked to her favor. She was the only player who had finished her match when the horn blew for weather, allowing for a little extra relaxation time that other players didn’t get.
If there’s one thing Li hopes for tomorrow, aside from the obvious victory, it’s that it goes quickly.
“I like playing fast,” said Li, who noted that her Round-of-16 match ended in three hours. “She's a good friend of mine and she plays really fast. So I just got to stick with my game plan tomorrow, just play my game. I'm playing against my friend, Kristen. She's really good. So honestly, I just got to play the best I can, and whatever the result is I'll be happy with.”
A little farther down the bracket, Canadian Jaclyn Lee went two extra holes with Elizabeth Wang before advancing to the quarterfinals. Lee, the first alternate into this field, is an Ohio State junior who finished T-5 individually at the national championship. She has Ohio State director of golf Therese Hession on her bag this week.
She will meet Arkansas senior Kaylee Benton, who took down Women’s Western winner Emilee Hoffman, 3 and 2, in the third round.
Another Curtis Cupper, Lauren Stephenson, will take on the last remaining mid-amateur in the tournament. Lauren Greenlief, a former Virginia player who won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, is trying to become the first over-25 player to win this event in 40 years.
Greenlief used Mid-Amateur memories to carry her through arguably the most grueling day of this championship. Before this year, she had never made Women’s Amateur match play.
“Just leverage my match play experience, having gone through this in the Mid Am going all the way,” she said. “I think having played a lot of match play tournaments in the past really helps kind of keeps you focused.”
The last quarterfinal match will pit Korea’s Jiwon Jeon against Houston’s Gurleen Kaur.
Jeon staged one of the biggest upsets of the third round with a 2-up defeat of 2015 Women’s Amateur finalist Sierra Brooks. Despite coming off an injury and some time away from competition, Brooks seemed to have found her game in Tennessee.
Jeon is headed to Alabama in the fall as a transfer from Daytona State College, where she won the NJCAA individual title this spring.
“Just step by step, hole by hole,” Jeon said of her day. “That kind of kept me in the right comfort zone.”
It’s good advice for anyone in a USGA endurance event.