Rachel Kuehn celebrates her 67 at Westchester C.C. that led to medalist honors in the 121st U.S. Women's Amateur. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)
Taking advantage of a windless conditions and comfortable temperatures, Wake Forest All-American Rachel Kuehn
, 20, of Asheville, N.C., carded a 5-under-par 67 on Tuesday at Westchester Country to earn medalist honors in the 121st U.S. Women’s Amateur, America’s oldest female amateur championship.
Kuehn’s 36-hole total of 6-under 138 was two strokes better than Southern Methodist University rising senior Kennedy Pedigo
, 22, of Fort Worth, Texas.
Kuehn, the No. 23 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®, joins her mom, Brenda Corrie Kuehn, as a USGA medalist. Brenda was medalist in the 1995 and 1996 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs, losing in the 1995 final.
Could this finally be the year the medalist drought in the this championship ends? Kuehn certainly has the credentials – and pedigree – to become the first top seed to claim the Robert Cox Trophy since Amanda Blumenherst in 2008. She will need to win six matches over the next five days to accomplish that feat.
Of course, Kuehn, competing in her eighth USGA championship and second U.S. Women’s Amateur, knows the first hurdle is winning Wednesday’s Round-of-64 encounter. With a field this talented, there’s no time to rest on laurels or celebrate what transpired in stroke play.
“I think you get to this level and everyone can play, so you just got to take one match at a time and not take anything for granted,” said Kuehn, who won the Women’s North & South and Ladies National Golf Association titles in 2020. “The seeding doesn't really mean anything at this level. Everyone can go out there and have a good round, and match play is having just a little bit of a better round than your opponent.”
Since missing the match-play cut last month as the defending North & South champion, Kuehn has focused all of her attention on ball-striking. There were signs of improvement last week when she was the joint runner-up in the inaugural Sea Island Women’s Invitational in Georgia.
On Tuesday, it also didn’t hurt to get a fortunate break on the par-4 eighth to keep the round from going awry. Following a bogey on the par-4 seventh – her only blemish in the round – Kuehn faced a 188-yard approach. Her 5-iron shot skipped across the pond fronting the green and she managed to convert a 10-footer for par. From there, she registered consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 and 10, and finished off the day with a 236-yard, 3-wood approach to the 520-yard, par-5 18th, setting up a two-putt birdie.
“I think it’s a ball-striker's course,” said Kuehn of Westchester’s West Course, which hosted a PGA Tour event for more than 40 years and was the site of the 2015 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship won by Inbee Park. “If you can hit the middle of the fairways and greens you're bound to play well.”
Pedigo qualified for match play for the first time in three attempts in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, thanks to a seven-birdie performance that became a 68 and 36-hole total of 140. Her round was highlighted by a 50-foot birdie on the par-3 16th hole.
University of Arkansas fifth-year senior Brooke Matthews
, 22, of Rogers, Ark., went one better than Pedigo with an eight-birdie performance en route to a 6-under 66 (141 total) and the best round of the week. On Matthews’ bag this week is fellow Razorback and 2019 Latin America Amateur champion Alvaro Ortiz, who won his first professional event in March on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.
“Happy to have him here,” said Matthews. “He helps me a lot.”
The Round-of-64 matches begin at 9 a.m. off the first tee with Golf Channel broadcasting live from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT. Two rounds of match play are scheduled for Thursday with the quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday and Saturday afternoon, respectively. The 36-hole final is set for Sunday.
The cut for match play came at 6-over-par 148, with 12 golfers playing off for the final two spots in the draw. University of Kentucky teammates Jensen Castle
(seed 63) and Marissa Wenzler
(seed 64) garnered the two spots. Wenzler won the Women’s Western Amateur last month as the No. 1 seed.
Defending champion Rose Zhang
registered a second consecutive 1-over 73 to qualify for match play. The 18-year-old from Irvine, Calif., who won last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, is bidding for a third USGA title in the last 12 months.
Despite a 77, first-round leader Suthavee Chanachai
, of Thailand, still qualified for match play at 2-over 146.
Besides Zhang, two other USGA champions qualified for match play: Erica Shepherd
(2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball) and Savannah Barber
(2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball).
Other notables to qualify for match play included 2021 NCAA champion and world No. 2 Rachel Heck
, 2020 British Women’s Amateur champion Aline Krauter
, and 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalists Valery Plata and Alyaa Abdulghany
Notables who failed to advance included 2021 U.S. Women’s Open low amateur and 2019 Women’s Amateur semifinalist
Megha Ganne, 2019 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Ina Kim-Schaad, two-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion Lara Tennant, 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Alexa Saldana, and 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Tsubasa Kajitani.
Xin (Cindy) Kou, the last player to get into the field, carded a 3-under 69 after a first-round 77 to qualify for match play. Kou, who was born in the People’s Republic of China but now resides in Valencia, Calif., was contacted by the USGA on Saturday when 2021 Canadian Women’s Amateur champion Lauren Zaretsky declined the exemption.
by David Shefter, USGA