It's Liu vs. Shim in the U.S. Junior finals
--photo USGA
--photo USGA

STRATHAM, N.H. – Jim Liu, 16, of Smithtown, N.Y., the 2010 champion, and Andy Hyeon Bo Shim, 17, of Duluth, Ga., have advanced to Saturday’s 36-hole final of the U.S. Junior Amateur at the 7,125-yard, par-72 Golf Club of New England.

Liu defeated Matthew Scobie, 16, of Canada, in the semifinals on Friday afternoon, 3 and 1. Shim dispatched Nicolas Echavarria, 17, of Colombia, 2 and 1.

Liu will attempt to join Tiger Woods (1991-93) and Jordan Spieth (2009, ’11) as the only multiple winners of the Junior Amateur.

“To be able to join that list would mean a lot, but I can’t get ahead of myself,” said Liu, who was 14 when he won the 2010 championship and replaced Woods as the youngest winner in Junior Amateur history.

Liu birdied the first three holes in his match against Scobie to take a 2-up lead. Scobie buckled down and the two matched scores until Scobie’s birdie at the 11th hole cut Liu’s lead to 1 up. Scobie had a chance to square the match at the par-5 15th when he stood over a 6-footer for birdie, but the putt missed and Liu kept the advantage.

Liu was 1 up as he stood on the 17th tee and he striped a 6-iron to within 20 feet of the hole. When Scobie hit his shot into a water hazard, Liu’s putt was conceded to end the match.

Liu and Shim, whose biggest title is the 2012 Georgia State Junior, never met until today. Liu is the more experienced golfer and more well-known. When he was nine, he shot a 59 on a modified and shortened par-72 course at Walt Disney World. At 14, he captured the Junior Amateur.

“That gives me more confidence, knowing that I’ve been in that situation and I can pull through,” said Liu. But he has been careful this week to downplay his victory of two years ago, saying he needed to play golf one day at a time.

Shim took a 1-up lead over the more experienced Echavarria when he birdied the second hole on a 4-foot putt. After hitting a wedge to within 6 feet of the hole at the 11th, he made the putt and went 2 up. Echavarria bounced back by winning the 12th hole with a par and the players went to the difficult 17th hole, a 187-yard, par-3 that has decided the fate of many.

Echavarria had the honor on the strength of winning the 12th. He hit his tee shot into the water. Shim, with a 1-up margin, hit slightly over the green with a 6-iron but made a 4 to Echavarria’s 5 to end the match.

“I feel like this is a dream come true,” Shim said.

Shim was born in Gunsan, a city in Korea, and emigrated to the United States with his parents and sister three years ago. “The golf is so good in America, we decided to come,” he said. “My goal is to be a professional on the PGA Tour, which is here.” His father, Jae Fil Shim, owns a business in Korea and runs it from an office in Duluth, Ga.

“We settled in Georgia because it’s right in the middle of the country and there’s a part of town that has a lot of Koreans and looks like Korea,” Shim said.

Liu will graduate from high school in 2014 and has made a verbal commitment to Stanford University. Shim, who is home-schooled, said he wants to attend college in the United States but “I’ll have to catch up on my work in school.”

Liu was born in New York City but his parents are from China. With Shim from Korea, Scobie from Canada and Echavarria from Colombia, the semifinals had an international flavor.

“We had four kids from four different countries playing in the semifinals,” said Greg Sanfilippo, USGA director of the Junior Amateur. “It’s really great to see the reach that the U.S. Junior Amateur has and how important it is these players, because it is the world’s greatest championship in junior golf.”

In the morning’s quarterfinal round, Liu defeated Nicolo Galletti, 17, of Pleasanton, Calif., 3 and 2. Scobie defeated Maverick McNealy, 17, of Portola Valley, Calif., on the 20th hole. Shim defeated Joo-Young Lee of Hilliard, Ohio, 4 and 2. Echavarria defeated Branson Davis, 17, of McKinney, Texas, 1 up.

The U.S. Junior is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

ABOUT THE U.S. Junior Amateur

While it is not the oldest competition, the U.S. Junior Amateur is considered the premier junior competition, having been around since 1948. The event is open to male golfers who have not reached their 19th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 6.4. The U.S. Junior is one of 14 national championship conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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