Kristen Gillman (USGA photo)
KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. (Aug. 12, 2018) – To say that Kristen Gillman is a different woman with her latest U.S. Women’s Amateur victory than she was four years ago is the severest of understatements. Gillman was in high school and had braces and a shy demeanor in 2014 when she won for the first time. But Sunday’s victory? It comes on the heels of a made cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, a 5-0 run at the Curtis Cup and a victory on the Japan LPGA.
“I think over the last four years, I've really been able to, I think, strengthen my mental game and just all aspects of my game because winning that tournament gave me so many opportunities and allowed me to play in some majors and professional events,” Gillman said Sunday afternoon at the Golf Club of Tennessee. “I was able to see what I was lacking in my game. So I've just been able to focus on what I need to improve to be able to make it on Tour.”
Gillman, now 20, faced off against incoming Alabama transfer Jiwon Jeon in the 36-hole final, a player who was dominant on the junior-college circuit this season. But Jeon never really challenged her future teammate and Gillman began building her lead early. She was 7 up by No. 14, and even though Jeon won Nos. 17 and 18 before lunch, Gillman still came back for the afternoon 18 with a 5-up lead.
“She was very consistent all day,” Jeon said. “I mean, it was a little difficult for me to catch up on her. But that is the one I cannot control. So I was trying to play my best. I didn't play my best today, but I tried my best on the course.”
Even though Gillman hosted Jeon during an Alabama campus visit earlier this year, the two had never seen each other’s games in person. Jeon watched Gillman play on TV in last month’s JLPGA event. Jeon walked away from the final knowing she needed to work on her putting. Gillman was downright inspiring on the greens.
Gillman opened with two birdies on the second 18. Even though Jeon won a handful of holes, she ran out of time at the 30th hole, leaving Gillman with a 7-and-6 victory.
Then she burst into tears, which is uncharacteristic of the stoic Gillman. In fact, the Alabama junior often shows such a lack of emotion that she has a reputation as a flat-liner. At the Women’s Open, Alabama head coach Mic Potter said a straight face belies an intense attention to detail – not just on the golf course, but in the classroom, too. She has a 4.0 GPA at Alabama and is majoring in marketing.
“My mom wasn't able to come the first time, so she flew here last night to watch me play in the final match,” Gillman said in explaining the tears. “So it was really cool to have her be able to be here, too, to experience this win because I know that last time she wanted to be here, but she just had eye surgery, so she couldn't fly.”
Gillman said she got equally emotional after winning her first professional event in Japan, but before that it had been a long time since a tournament title opened up the tear ducts.
Gillman is in position to graduate in May, and is already worried about missing so much school in the coming year. Her Women’s Amateur victory earned her a spot representing the U.S. at the World Amateur Team Championship. NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho, a senior at Wake Forest, has already been named to the three-woman team.
In addition to that opportunity, Gillman will receive the traditional exemptions into the Evian Championship, ANA Inspiration, U.S. Women’s Open and Ricoh Women’s British Open over the coming year. She also plans to play LPGA Q-School in preparation for a professional career that is close on the horizon.
“I haven't met my professors, so we'll see how cool they are,” Gillman said in terms of how many events she could actually play and still attend enough classes to keep her perfect GPA.
Four years ago when Gillman was in this position, a wrist injury suffered during the final against Brooke Henderson hampered her game significantly. She was out for five months nursing the injury.
“I think it was definitely difficult to take some time off due to my wrist injury, and I think the hardest part was not knowing if I would be able to play again or even be able to be the player I was,” she said. “So it was definitely hard taking some time off, but I think it makes you appreciate the game more, makes you realize the hard days really aren't that hard and that you just should enjoy playing the game.”
With her victory, Gillman becomes the first player since Joanne Gunderson (Carner) to go four years between victories. Gunderson won in 1962 and 1966, and had three other victories. Margaret Curtis (for whom the Curtis Cup was named) also went four years between victories, winning in 1907 and again in 1911 (she also won in 1912).
For Gillman, a repeat was a little sweeter than the original, in large part because this time, she knew what it meant.
“I think this one was a lot harder to win because after the first one I won, it was my first time playing, and so I was kind of new to it,” she said. “But every time I come back now, I've always talked about how -- like this week, I was the only champion in the field, and so I feel like that kind of brings a little bit more pressure along with it. But I think it also makes the victory a little sweeter, too.”
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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