Gianna Clemente defeated Anna Davis in the Round of 16 (USGA Photo)
Turns out the pyrotechnics in the heavens above the U.S. Air Force Academy Eisenhower Golf Club weren’t the only things creating electricity on Thursday afternoon. The marquee Round-of-16 match in the 74th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship between 2022 runner-up Gianna Clemente and No. 2 seed Anna Davis had July 4-type fireworks.
The junior standouts combined for nine birdies in a match worthy of a final, with Clemente, 15, of Estero, Fla., pulling out a 3-and-2 victory over the 16-year-old from Spring Valley, Calif.
Both players had to wait out a 3-hour, 1-minute delay for thunderstorms and heavy rains that blanketed the Blue Course just after the Round-of-32 matches were completed. Six of the eight afternoon Round-of-16 matches finished before play was suspended due to darkness. The unfinished matches will resume on Friday at 7 a.m. MT.
During the delay, good friends Clemente, Davis and Kiara Romero, who trails Natalie Yen by a hole with three to play, spent time in the player hospitality area chatting and enjoying each other’s company. But once they got to the first tee, all pleasantries were put aside. Both Clemente and Davis have played against each other for a number of years and the former defeated the latter in a singles match, 1 up, at last week’s American Junior Golf Association’s Wyndham Cup at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“That [level of play] was definitely expected,” said Clemente, who now owns an 8-1 match-play record in the U.S. Girls’ Junior. “I’ve played with Anna a lot. She's very accomplished, very experienced. I knew that I had to make a lot of birdies. I knew that she was going to as well.”
Clemente, who captured the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title with partner Avery Zweig in May, jumped out quickly, making birdie on the first hole and winning Nos. 2 and 3 with pars. Davis, a left-hander who has committed to attend Auburn University in 2024, answered with three consecutive birdies from No. 5 to tie the match.
Then it was Clemente’s turn to go on a run, taking No. 8 with a par, hitting a gorgeous approach to the par-5 ninth to set up a 5-foot birdie and then adding another birdie on No. 10 to regain her 3-up advantage.
Davis, who was just named to the 2023 USA Women’s World Amateur Team, got one back with a birdie on No. 11, but Clemente’s birdie on the par-3 13th pushed the margin back to 3 up. They tied the next three holes.
“I knew the birdies would come, it was just a matter of time,” said Clemente, who had just three birdies in her first two matches, both of which went the full 18 holes. “The putts definitely fell a little bit more today than they did yesterday and in stroke play. Definitely made a couple more birdies than expected today, so it was a good day.”
Added Davis: “I was proud of myself. But, yeah, it was kind of a grind like the entire match. She was playing well. It was definitely one of the more interesting matches I've ever had.”
Also advancing to the quarterfinals were Texas redshirt freshman Farah O'Keefe, 18, of Austin, Texas; University of Michigan incoming freshman Sidney Yermish, 17, of Pinehurst, N.C.; Rianne Malixi, 16, of the Philippines; Leigh Chien, 17, of Irvine, Calif.; and Clarisa Temelo, 17, of Mexico.
Yermish, who last played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior as a 12-year-old in 2018, almost frittered away a 4-up lead with four to play before holding off Kennedy Swedick, 1 up. It was the first time all week that Yermish was extended to the final hole. Earlier on Thursday, Yermish eliminated Abra Richmond, 3 and 1.
Malixi overcame a cold putter to earn a 1-up, come-from-behind win over Audrey Rischer to reach her first quarterfinal in a USGA championship. Malixi, who also defeated her Round-of-32 opponent, Kaitlyn Schroeder, by the same margin earlier on Thursday, converted a 15-foot birdie on No. 17 to tie the match and then two-putted from 12 feet on the 18th hole to seal the win when Rischer failed to get up and down from 25 yards in front of the green.
Malixi is bidding to join 2014 champion Princess Mary Superal as the only Filipinas to capture this championship. Dottie Ardina was a runner-up in 2011 to Ariya Jutanugarn. Yuka Saso also won the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open while representing the Philippines (has since changed to Japan).
Next up for Malixi will be O’Keefe, who ended the run of Yeji Kwon, of Canada, 3 and 2. Kwon came into the match fresh off a dramatic 20-hole victory over defending champion and medalist Yana Wilson, of Henderson, Nev.
O’Keefe arrived in Colorado from the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach, where she played a practice round with world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and picked up other valuable tidbits from the world’s best players.
“I didn't play too well at Pebble, but it was a really good learning experience and I think I kind of picked up on some mental things that maybe I was lacking in,” said O’Keefe, who enrolled at Texas in January and practiced with the team but didn’t play in any events. “It was really helpful to watch [champion] Allisen [Corpuz] come down the stretch and look at what she did differently to what I was doing. It was really tiny stuff, but that's the difference between 9 under and 11 over.”
Chien, who has committed to attend Stanford University in 2024, eliminated 2023 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Kaili Xiao, of the People’s Republic of China, 3 and 1. She broke open a tight match by winning four holes in a six-hole stretch from No. 9. Xiao did win Nos. 15 and 16 before Chien closed it out with a birdie on the par-3 17th.
Temelo also eliminated a 2023 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier, Chizuru Komiya, of Japan, 2 and 1, as darkness enveloped the course. She is hoping to become the first player from Mexico to claim the title and the third from Latin America, following Chile’s Nicole Perrot (2001) and Julieta Granada (2004), of Paraguay.