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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Li finds spotlght shining on her again in U.S. Women's Amateur

   You’d think a 13-year-old kid would wilt in the spotlight of a U.S. Women’s Amateur, but I saw quite the opposite when I watched Lucy Li in action a year ago at Rolling Green Golf Club.
   Li of Redwood Shores, Calif. nearly won medalist honors in qualifying at Rolling Green and advanced to the second round of match play before falling to eventual semifinalist Hannah Green of Australia. I didn’t watch her a lot, but the few times I did check in on her, Li seemed to be eating up the big stage. It was like she was born to be there.
   Li’s 14 now and back in the second round after knocking off Mariel Galdiano of Pearl City, Hawaii, ironically the woman who surged past Li to claim the qualifying medal at Rolling Green, 4 and 3, in the opening round of match play in this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Wednesday at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif.
   Li will get Galdiano’s UCLA teammate and teammate on the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team, Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar, Calif. in the second round Thursday morning. By the time FS1’s coverage comes on at 6 p.m., it will be the round of 16.
   The winner of the Li-Wu match will get the winner of the all-French battle between qualifying medalist Shannon Aubert and Agathe Laisne in the round of 16.
   Li faced a formidable task in getting past Galdiano, who was coming off a solid freshman season at Westwood.
   Galdiano was hanging tough, trailing Li just 1-down heading to the 13th tee. But Li won 13 with a par and 14 and 15 with birdies, her fourth and fifth birdies of the day, and suddenly it was over.
   Aubert, a Stanford senior, rolled to an easy 6 and 4 victory over Samantha Hutchinson of San Jose, Calif. in her opening-round match.
   That sets up a match for Aubert with Laisne, a rising star from her country. Laisne recently rallied for a one-shot victory in the European Ladies Amateur Championship in Switzerland over Swiss star Albane Valenzuela, Aubert’s Stanford’s teammate.
   Laisne reached the second round of match play last summer at Rolling Green with Stonewall and Applebrook caddy Mike Rossi on the bag. She is part of a blockbuster recruiting class that will join Big 12 champion Texas in a few weeks.
   Laisne advanced Wednesday with a 2 and 1 victory over Erica Shepherd, the left-hander from Greenwood, Ind. who was an impressive winner of the U.S. Girls' Junior a couple of weeks ago at  Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.
   Speaking of Valenzuela, the Stanford sophomore moved into the second round Wednesday with a hard-fought 1-up victory over Thailand’s Wad Phaewchimplee, the senior leader of a Kent State program that was among the last eight standing for match play in the NCAA Championship in the spring.
   One of the matches of the day saw a third Stanford standout, sophomore Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif. drop a 1-up decision to Washington junior Sarah Rhee, one of the four fabulous freshmen on the Huskies’ unlikely 2016 national championship team. Lee is another member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team.
   They halved 15 holes. Rhee won the par-5 eighth with a birdie, Lee won the par-4 12th with a birdie, Rhee won the par-5 16th with a birdie. That is some serious match-play grinding.
   Alabama sophomore and Austin, Texas native Kristen Gillman, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion at Nassau Country Club on Long Island, ousted fellow Texan Hailee Cooper, 3 and 2. Cooper teamed with fellow Texas teen Kaitlyn Papp to win the 2016 U.S. Women’s Four-Ball Championship at Streamsong. Papp will join Laisne this year at Texas and Cooper will join them a year from now.
   Another interesting second-round match Wednesday morning will pit Mexico’s Isabella Fierro, who won the prestigious North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst this summer, against Yuka Saso, the Filipino phenom who reached the semifinals at Rolling Green as a 15-year-old a year ago.
   The 16-year-old Fierro, a protégé of one Lorena Ochoa-Reyes, knocked off 12-year-old Alexa Pano, 4 and 3, in an opening-round match Tuesday. Caught some of that match on FS1 and Pano lost the putter on the back nine. She could find neither the line nor the speed on most of her putts.
   But give credit to Fierro, who also made match play at Rolling Green and lost in the first round to Laisne. That pairing sheet from semifinal day at Rolling Green with the entire match-play bracket has really come in handy in the last year.
   Saso advanced with a 3 and 2 victory over Conner Beth Ball of Madison, Miss., part of a promising recruiting class headed for Mississippi in a few weeks.

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