Elle Nachmann rallied to oust defending champ and world No. 1 Rose Zhang on Wednesday at Westchester C.C. (Darren Carroll/USGA)
Favorites and high seeds in the 121st U.S. Women’s Amateur did not have a memorable Wednesday at Westchester Country Club. The defending champion, Rose Zhang, and seven of the top eight seeds, including medalist Rachel Kuehn, were all eliminated in the Round of 64.
Elle Nachmann, 18, of Boca Raton, Fla., a sophomore who carries a 4.0 GPA in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, rallied to defeat the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®, 1 up.
“I'm feeling amazing,” said Nachmann. “I knew that she was going to be a tough competitor. It really, really makes me confident.”
Hours earlier, University of Kentucky junior Marissa Wenzler, 20, of Dayton, Ohio, who survived a 12-for-2 playoff late Tuesday afternoon just to get into the match-play draw, ousted Wake Forest All-American Kuehn, 1 up. It was the fifth time since 2010 that the No. 1 seed has failed to advance out of the Round of 64. Amanda Blumenherst (2008) remains the last medalist to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The upsets didn’t end there. Wenzler’s Kentucky teammate, Jensen Castle, 20, of West Columbia, S.C., who earned the other spot in the playoff, ousted No. 2 seed Kennedy Pedigo, of Fort Worth, Texas, 3 and 2.
Five other top-eight seeds were also eliminated. Cara Heisterkamp, 15, of Westlake, Ohio, defeated two-time USGA champion and No. 4 seed Erica Shepherd, of Greenwood, Ind., in 19 holes; Emma McMyler, 19, of San Antonio, Texas, beat 2019 quarterfinalist and No. 5 seed Caroline Canales, of Calabasas, Calif., 2 and 1; Kailie Vongsaga, 20, of Diamond Bar, Calif., rallied to defeat 2020 semifinalist and No. 6 seed Alyaa Abdulghany, of Malaysia, 1 up; Rianne Mikhaela Malixi, 14, of the Philippines, ousted No. 7 seed Allysha Mae Mateo, of Mililani, Hawaii, in 19 holes; and Katie Cranston, 17, of Canada, beat No. 8 seed Morgan Baxendale, of Windermere, Fla., 4 and 3.
A couple of notables did prevail, including world No. 2 and reigning NCAA champion Rachel Heck, 19, of Memphis, Tenn., who had the day’s biggest margin of victory, a 7-and-5 decision over Karen Tsuru, of Carlsbad, Calif.
University of Arkansas standout and No. 3 seed Brooke Matthews, 22, of Rogers, Ark., earned a 5-and-4 win over Brittany Shin, of Cape Coral, Fla.
On paper, Nachmann/Zhang looked like a mismatch. The Floridian came in No. 1,968 in the WAGR with only a handful of competitions under her belt in the last year. With the Ivy League canceling its golf season, she never played for the Quakers in 2020-21. But in the last four weeks, she earned medalist honors in her U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier and won the Florida State Golf Association’s Women’s Stroke Play Championship, while finishing runner-up in the FSGA’s Match Play Championship. She also missed qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open by a stroke in the spring.
Zhang, meanwhile, has been on a whirlwind summer tour that included last month’s victory in the U.S. Girls’ Junior, making her the eighth player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Girls’ Junior. The incoming Stanford University freshman also played in the U.S. Women’s Open in June, the Evian Championship in France last month, and is headed to Carnoustie in Scotland for the upcoming Women’s British Open and will close out the month representing the USA in the Curtis Cup Match at Conwy Golf Club in Wales.
Zhang, winner of 15 of her last 16 USGA matches, appeared headed for another victory when she took a 2-up lead through 10 holes. Nachmann, the niece of former top-20 tennis pro Vince Spadea, won holes 13, 15 and 16 for a 1-up lead. When Zhang looked like she would force extra holes by converting a clutch 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole, Nachmann calmly answered by making her 8-footer.
“Coming into this week I just didn't have the best game,” said Zhang, who was bidding to win three USGA titles in a 12-month period. “I had to grind through stroke play, and then in match play obviously you can't make any mistakes.”
For Wenzler, it was a 180-degree reversal from the Women’s Western Amateur title run last month at Park Ridge (Ill.) Country Club, where she registered five victories in the 32-player, match-play draw as the medalist. This time as the No. 64 seed, the pressure was entirely different.
“Being the one seed comes with perks and cons,” said Wenzler, who dropped a 19-hole decision in her U.S. Women’s Amateur debut last year. “When you're the one seed, I think it's more nerve wracking because you're expected to play better and [win]. At the same time, when you're in an event like this, your seeding doesn’t matter.”
Nobody knew that more than Kuehn, who joined her mom, Brenda, as a USGA medalist. But against Wenzler, mistakes at critical junctures proved to be the difference.
Two down through 15, Kuehn managed to apply some pressure with a birdie on No. 16. Then on the 17th hole, Wenzler’s tee shot found the trees and she was forced to punch out. Kuehn’s putter didn’t cooperate as a three-putt bogey proved costly.
On the par-5 18th, Kuehn faced a tricky 15-foot downhill-right-to-left birdie putt. When she missed left, Wenzler calmly lagged her 12-footer to tap-in range to close out the win.
“Marissa played great,” said a gracious Kuehn afterward. “I had a couple bounces not go my way and a couple that went hers, and that's golf.”
The Rounds of 32 and 16 will be contested on Thursday, starting at 7 a.m. EDT. The Round of 16 is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., with live streaming on Peacock from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. EDT.
A No. 64 seed has never won a USGA championship, although Alexandria Frazier did reach the final of the 2010 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. Steven Fox (2012 U.S. Amateur) and Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links) won as No. 63 seeds.
Bailey Davis, who picked up a legion of fans with her runner-up performance in last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, was eliminated by Georgia Women’s Amateur champion Jenny Bae, 3 and 2. Davis is headed to Tennessee this fall, where she will be an SEC rival of Bae (Georgia).
Brooke Seay, the veteran of this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur with six appearances, knocked out 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Savannah Barber.
Rianne Mikhaela Malixi, 14, of the Philippines, was the youngest match-play qualifier, while Clare Connolly, 29, of Chevy Chase, Md., one of four mid-amateurs (25 and older) to compete this week, was the oldest. Connolly is a part-time caddie at Congressional Country Club, site of the 2011 U.S. Open. Her loss in the Round of 64 meant another year without a mid-amateur hoisting the trophy. The last mid-am to win was Cathy Sherk in 1978.
Stanford, with Rachel Heck, Seay, Aline Krauter and Rose Zhang had the most players in the draw, followed by Arkansas, Ohio State, Kentucky and UCLA with three apiece. The University of Georgia, Michigan State, Wake Forest and the University of Southern California had two apiece.
Besides the United States, which had 43 of the 64 players in the draw, 14 other countries were represented, led by Australia with three. The others: Canada (2), Chinese Taipei (2), Malaysia (2), the People’s Republic of China (2), Thailand (2), Argentina (1), Austria (1), Colombia (1), Germany (1), Guatemala (1), Italy (1), Mexico (1) and the Philippines (1).
Five of the 32 matches went extra holes. No. 9 seed and 2020 quarterfinalist Emilio Migliaccio and Sophie Linder each needed 22 holes to advance past Ting-Hsuan Huang and Bridget Ma, respectively.