Photo: Darren Carroll/USGA
completed one of the most improbable runs in U.S. Women’s Amateur history by defeating Yu-Chiang (Vivian) Hou
, 2 and 1, in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match at Westchester Country Club.
Castle, 20, of West Columbia, S.C., a University of Kentucky junior who opened the week with a 7-over-par 79 in Monday’s first round of stroke play and then survived a 12-for-2 playoff just to reach match play, became the first No. 63 seed to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy. Castle is the third No. 63 seed in USGA history to win a title since seeding began in the mid-1980s – Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links) and Steven Fox (2012 U.S. Amateur) are the others.
Already exempt into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open by virtue of reaching the final match, Castle assured herself a spot on the eight-woman 2021 USA Curtis Cup Team that will face Great Britain and Ireland Aug. 26-28 at Conwy Golf Club in Wales. The remaining four players will be announced on Monday.
“Still hasn’t registered,” said Castle. “It feels like just another tournament, but then I step back and I’m like, this is a USGA event with so much history, and I just can’t imagine… all the exemptions I didn’t even realize [I had coming].”
Castle arrived at Westchester Country Club having not played any competitive golf since her U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in Dayton, Ohio, on July 8 because of a stress fracture in her ribs. Her expectations were so low that she didn’t pack enough outfits for her winning run and also had to change her accommodations mid-week, going from a hotel to a friend’s residence in nearby Greenwich, Conn. She also used the same golf ball with a Kentucky logo for her last five matches.
Yet even with low expectations, Castle displayed a bulldog mentality that served her well, especially in the Saturday semifinals when she rallied from 2 down with three to play to oust world No. 2 and reigning NCAA champion Rachel Heck in 19 holes.
“Everyone gives me [a hard time] for my resting face,” said Castle. “I'm very aggressive and blunt so it doesn't go together very well. But I promise I’m friendly. I’m very competitive on the golf course. That’s only over top of the ball.”
For Hou, a former No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® who came into the week at No. 21, it was a disappointing defeat, especially when she took a 2-up lead after the first 18 holes. But the 20-year-old University of Arizona junior from Chinese Taipei was unable to match Castle, who came out blistering hot to open the afternoon round, winning three of the first four holes with birdies, and adding a fourth win with a par on the 26th hole to take a 2-up lead through 27.
Castle, No. 248 in the latest WAGR, extended the lead to three holes with a winning par on the 29th hole.
But Hou, who hadn’t played a competitive event since the NCAA Championships in late May due to a partially torn labrum in her left hip, showed the determination that made her the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Freshman of the Year in 2020. A brilliant up-and-down birdie from greenside rough on the par-5 30th set in motion two consecutive wins to trim the margin to 1 down. She rolled in a birdie on the par-4 31st, but then missed an 8-foot par putt on No. 33 that gave Castle a 2-up lead with three to play.
Hou rebounded for the final time by hitting her tee shot on the 203-yard, par-3 34th to 10 feet below the flagstick for a winning birdie.
Castle then found a way to deliver the final knockout blow, holing a 9-foot birdie putt on the 35th hole to give the University of Kentucky its first U.S. Women’s Amateur champion.
Hou was hoping to become the third University of Arizona golfer to win a USGA title this summer, joining Jim Furyk (U.S. Senior Open) and Annika Sorenstam (U.S. Senior Women’s Open). Instead, she is the fourth Wildcat to fall one match short in this championship, joining Sorenstam (1992), Marisa Baena (1996) and her current coach, Laura (Myerscough) Ianello (2000), who flew in for the final match.
Hou was tearful in the moments after the match ended as she was consoled by Ianello, teammate Maya Benita, her caddie/sister, Yu-Sang, and another Chinese Taipei player (Han-Hsuan Yu) who failed to qualify for match play.
“This is golf, and I am really looking forward to what’s next for me,” said Hou, who has entered the first stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School with her sister, starting Aug. 19 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. “Congratulations to the champion. She played really well.”
For the first time all week, the competitors dealt with light rain at the start of the match at 8 a.m. ET. But it dissipated quickly to partly sunny skies without much of a breeze. Hou’s third shot on the par-5 18th stopped 5 feet from the flagstick to set up a winning birdie and a 2-up lead at the break.
What Champion Receives
A gold medal and custody of the Robert Cox Trophy for one year
Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Women’s Amateurs
Exemption into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Resort in Southern Pines, N.C.
Invitation into the 2021 AIG Women’s British Open at Carnoustie in two weeks
Exemptions into the 2022 ANA Inspiration, AIG Women's British Open and Amundi Evian Championship (must be an amateur)
Invitation to the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur
Runner-up Yu-Chiang (Vivian) Hou received a silver medal and an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open (must remain an amateur). She also is exempt into the next three U.S. Women’s Amateurs.
The 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur will be conducted at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., Aug. 8-14. Chambers Bay has previously hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur, 2015 U.S. Open and 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.
Jensen Castle is the seventh LPGA*USGA Girls Golf alum to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur, joining Meredith Duncan (2001), Morgan Pressel (2005), Amanda Blumenherst (2008), Hannah O'Sullivan (2015), Sophia Schubert (2017) and Kristen Gillman (2014 & 2018).
While Kentucky head coach Golda Borst was in her native Sweden this week, Wildcat assistant Brian May broke away from his vacation in Hilton Head Island, S.C., to support Jensen Castle.
Cathy Boatwright, the daughter-in-law of former USGA executive director P.J. Boatwright, served as the referee for the morning 18, while Nancy Rees was the referee for the afternoon round.
The tee on the severely uphill par-5 27th (ninth hole) was moved up 30 yards for the afternoon round, making it play 456 yards.