Kristen Gillman (USGA photo)
KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. (Aug. 10, 2018) – There will be no age records broken Saturday at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. The kids have fallen, the mid-amateurs have fallen and all that remains are four collegians in the semifinals.
The remarkable thing is that three of the four play for the same team: Alabama.
Alabama junior Kristen Gillman and Arkansas senior Kaylee Benton will face off Saturday morning in the first semifinal match, while Jiwon Jeon, an incoming Alabama transfer from Daytona State College, will take on future teammate Lauren Stephenson in the second one.
The headlining match in the quarterfinals pitted Gillman, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, against her Curtis Cup teammate Lucy Li, 15. Li had the advantage for most of the match, right up until Gillman squared it with birdie at the 18th hole. Gillman parred the first extra hole and when Li missed 2-footer for par, it ended her run.
“I hated for it to end that way, but we both played our hearts out,” Gillman said.
LI’s bogey was only her second one in 100 holes this week.
“I’m not sure what happened. I just stood over it,” Li said. “I wasn’t nervous or anything. I felt like I pushed it a little bit. But honestly, I’m not sure what happened.”
Despite Gillman being a past champion in this event, Li may be the better-known player. Few 15-year-olds have been playing the USGA summer circuit for half a decade, but Li famously made her U.S. Women’s Amateur debut as a 10-year-old.
As for Gillman, she’ll continue trying to make birdies. There were five on Friday, but to her, that didn’t feel like enough.
“I think tomorrow I'll just be going after all the pins again and just trying to hopefully make the putts and able to make some birdies,” she said.
Gillman has an uncanny knack for scoring – from anywhere. Bailey Tardy, a senior at Georgia, met Gillman in the third round of match play and marveled at the putts she dropped. Trying to overtake Gillman was like trying to overtake a giant.
“Kristen is just draining putt after putt after putt and there’s just not much you can do about that,” Tardy said in describing a match against Gillman. “She would make her 30-footer and I wouldn’t make my 20-footer. That happened so many times.”
Kaylee Benton will be the next player to run up against Gillman, who seems to be playing her best golf this summer. For her part, Benton is the first player from the University of Arkansas to reach the semifinals since Stacy Lewis in 2006 at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon.
“I can’t even put into words the amount of support I’ve gotten from the state of Arkansas, my team and my friends and family back home [in Arizona],” said Benton. “To have everyone behind me, it means the world.”
Benton defeated Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee in the quarterfinals, 3 and 2. Benton birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 14 to pull away from Lee.
Though Gillman might be the more recognizable player in this event because of her past-champion status, teammate Lauren Stephenson was the Crimson Tide’s top scorer this season. She ended the spring as the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings after winning two times.
Stephenson got past mid-amateur Lauren Greenlief on Friday, 2 and 1. Greenlief won the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur, and was using that experience to guide her through the grueling path to a USGA title.
Greenlief couldn’t get past a string of four birdies Stephenson logged at Nos. 11-14. Greenlief had gotten Stephenson to 2 down before that stunning comeback.
“I think for me, sometimes I do better when I come from behind,” Stephenson said.
As for the final player in the quarterfinals, Jiwon Jeon, her dominance has been in a different realm. Jeon spent the past two years playing on a junior college team in Daytona Beach, Fla. Jeon, of Korea, won the individual national title for Daytona State this spring, and also won four Division I-dominant events in the regular season.
Jeon is already getting used to flying the flag for Alabama as she takes her game to the next level.
“It’s amazing,” said Jeon, 21, of the Republic of Korea. “I knew they were really good players and that Alabama has the best golf program, but I never thought three Alabama players are going to be in the Semifinals. I’m very excited to play one of them tomorrow.”
ABOUT THE U.S. Women's Amateur
The U.S. Women's Amateur, the third
the USGA championships, was first played
at Meadowbrook Club in Hempstead, N.Y.
event is open to any female amateur who
USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 5.4.
Women's Amateur is one of 14 national
championships conducted annually by the
10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
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