SPRINGFIELD – Friday was one of those days at the 116th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club.
The USGA pulled out a couple of the tougher pin placements available to it at Rolling Green and with a chance to reach the semifinals, nerves were a little on edge. It created some messy match-play golf, but it also led to some drama and some tremendously gutsy performances.
It’s just like the NCAA Tournament in basketball, survive and advance, by any means possible, and this was the quarterfinals, the elite eight.
When Andrea Lee’s 10-footer for par on the 18th hole refused to fall, it guaranteed that, for the first time since 1910, the final will be an all-international affair.
The 17-year-old Lee, a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that lost to Great Britain and Ireland in Dublin, was the last remaining American in the field and she was facing South Korean 16-year-old Eun Jeong Seong, to whom Lee had lost in the U.S. Girls’ Junior final less than two weeks ago at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
It was one of the last two matches left on the course with the roller-coaster ride that was the Mathilda Cappeliez-Hannah Green match playing out on its first extra hole. The other side of the bracket was already set with Italy’s Virginia Elena Carta, the NCAA individual champion as a freshman at Duke this spring, claiming a 3 and 1 victory over Puerto Rico’s Maria Torres, a senior at Florida, and Yuka Saso, a 15-year-old from the Philippines, earning a 1-up triumph over Nasa Hataoka, a 17-year-old from Japan.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I would just as soon be out on the golf course at one of these things. It might not be the most effective way to cover a match-play event, but hey, I’m just a blogger, so I’m going to go out and watch some golf.
For much of the day, I followed the Cappeliez-Green match. It wasn’t always pretty.
Green, a 19-year-old Australian, left her second shot at the fifth in the bunker to fall 1-down, dropped a 30-footer for birdie at the sixth to get back to even, then drove it in the creek on the left side of the par-5 seventh, unsuccessfully tried to extricate it without taking a penalty, took the penalty and … well it ultimately didn’t matter because Cappeliez made a 25-footer for birdie.
On the par-5 ninth, Cappeliez put herself in a bad spot in a greenside bunker, blasted a masterful shot to three feet above the hole and then putted it off the green. It was a mistake that seemed to stick with her for a while. She three-putted the 10th from the front fringe for bogey and lost the hole. She three-putted the 12th for a bogey and suddenly found herself 3-down.
So, standing behind the 13th green, it was decision time. I would abandon the Cappeliez-Green match for the Lee-Seong match, which was all square.
That’s when Cappeliez played a brilliant approach to tap-in range for a birdie at 13 that cut her deficit to 2-down.
While Lee and Seong were halving the 13th with pars, I could still see Cappeliez and Green playing the really tough par-3 14th. Even from 200 yards away, I could see a Green putt trundling off the green all the way into the rough in front. Cappeliez was only 1-down.
When Lee’s drive at the 15th hit the sneaky tree on the left side of the hole and dropped straight down, it led to a bogey and she was 1-down.
As I went up toward the green at the par-3 16th, the standard-bearer from the Cappeliez-Green match was going the other way down 17. The 18-year-old Frenchwoman had won the 16th and scratched her way all the way back to even.
I got to the 16th green just in time to see a brilliant shot by Lee land just short and squirt onto the green, 10 feet below the hole. She rolled in that birdie try and she and Seong were even again.
Up ahead, Cappeliez had one more three-putt in her and Green took a 1-up lead to the 18th.
About the 18th. The USGA loves to have a drivable par-4 or a hole that can be a par-5 hole one day and a par-4 the next. So, Thursday and Friday, the 18th, a 486-yard par-5 in most of the printed materials, was a 450-yard, par-4. So Rolling Green, the 6,259-yard, par-71 William Flynn gem was instead, the 6,223-yard, par-70 William Flynn gem. It doesn’t really matter, or does it?
Meanwhile, back on the par-17th, Lee’s drive found the bunker on the left while Seong drove it past the bunker, seemingly in good position to go for the green in two. Lee knocked in down the fairway while Seong left her approach just short in two. Lee’s third shot left her 30 feet away for birdie while Seong chipped to five feet short of the pin.
“I was trying to lay up to a certain distance and it went too far, so I was left with an awkward distance,” Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif. said afterward.
Still, Lee dropped a nervous three-footer for par and Seong missed her birdie try and they headed for the par-4 18th all square.
We were getting nothing from ahead, but would eventually learn that Green missed about a four-footer for par that would have won the match and she and Cappeliez headed to the tee at the par-3 10th hole for sudden death.
Lee’s approach to the 18th with a 4-iron left her a little short while Seong hit a brilliant approach that stopped 18 feet past the hole on the back fringe.
“It was the first time I had played the 18th as a par-4, so it was a little different,” said Lee, who will start her collegiate career at Stanford later this mont. “I think I thinned the 4-iron a little.”
Lee chipped to 10 feet and still had a chance to send the match to extra holes when Seong’s birdie putt just slid by the cup, but Lee couldn’t get her putt to fall. The match went to Seong, 1-up.
“I think I had the line right, but I needed to give it a little more speed,” a clearly disappointed Lee said. “Eun had beaten me in the Junior Girls’ final, so it would have been nice to get some revenge.”
They have met in several high-stakes matches and have become friends, but they were all business during the tense Seong victory.
“Yeah, maybe almost every breakfast and lunch with Andrea, we’re kidding around,” said Seong, who is trying to become just the third woman ever to win two USGA events in the same year. “But in the match, we’re very serious.”
Moments after Lee’s missed putt gave Seong the match, we could see the gallery heading back from the 10th green. Cappeliez, who will begin her collegiate career at Wake Forest later this month, had found the bunker on the right side of the green, blasted to four feet and made the putt to win the match.
She had been 3-down after 12 and fought back, 1-down heading to the 18th and forced an extra hole. And finally she had won. Cappeliez lost, 1-up, in the semifinals a year ago to eventual champion Hannah O’Sullivan. Saturday, she’ll get another chance to reach the Women’s Amateur final.
“My bad putting was just today,” Cappeliez said. “The other days, my putting was so good. Today, even though my putting was not here, my long game was pretty good. This year, I didn’t play a lot of tournaments because I had school and graduation, so I’m just enjoying myself.”
If you’re in the area and planning to attend the semifinals, don’t be fooled by the broadcast time of 1 to 4 p.m. on FS1. The Carta-Saso match tees off at 8 a.m. with the Seong-Cappeliez to follow at 8:15 a.m. I’m sticking with the Seong-Cappeliez match, at least for a while.
If you want to contact me with any golf tidbits, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow me on Twitter @tmacgolf16. I mostly use Twitter let people know when I’ve made a new blog post.