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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Li leads the American charge into U.S. Women's Amateur quarterfinals

   A year ago at Rolling Green Golf Club, Andrea Lee was the only American left standing when the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur reached the quarterfinals.
   And Lee, the best freshman in college golf at Stanford in the interim, was ousted by eventual champion Eun Jeong Seong of South Korea, 1-up, in a hard-fought quarterfinal match.
   It’s a little different at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur as five of the final eight who will battle it out in Friday’s quarterfinals at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif. will represent the US of A. Not surprisingly, given the tournament’s locale, three of the five Americans are Californians.
   And two of those Cali girls will face off in the first quarterfinal of the day as 14-year-old Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, Calif. will battle Lilia Kha-Tu Vu of Fountain Valley, Calif.
   Li was certainly the story in two rounds of matches Thursday as she took out Vu’s UCLA teammate Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar, Calif. with a stunning birdie barrage in the morning round of 32 and then held off a late rally by Stanford senior and qualifying medalist Shannon Aubert of France,  1-up, in the afternoon round of 16.
   Li made six birdies in the 13 holes she needed to knock off Wu, 6 and 5, in the second round. It was the second straight member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team and second straight UCLA standout Li had taken out as she reached the second round with a 4 and 3 win over Bruin sophomore Mariel Galdiano of Pearl City, Hawaii.
   It was more of the same in the afternoon when Li made four birdies in the first 11 holes in building a 4-up advantage over Aubert, who was three shots clear of the field in qualifying with rounds of 69 and 66 over the 6,423-yard, par-72 San Diego Country Club layout.
   Aubert gamely fought back, rattling off three straight birdies at 15, 16 and 17 to send the match to the 18th hole. She got a big piece of the hole on her all-or-nothing birdie putt from the closely mown area behind the 18th green. But the remarkable Li, playing in her 10th USGA championship, calmly got it up and down from the bunker in front the final green to hold on for the 1-up victory.
   Vu was the hottest player in college golf when she cruised to the Pac-12 individual title, but the Bruins’ postseason went off the rails at the Lubbock Regional. Vu knocked off Pac-12 rival Sarah Rhee, one of the heroes of Washington’s 2016 national championship team, 6 and 5, in the round of 15 after pulling out a 1-up win over Michigan State senior Sarah Burnham, who led the Wolverines to the Big Ten title and all the way to the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
   A U.S. Women’s Amateur that has been dominated by teen phenoms in recent years is also seeing some of the top college talent flexing its muscles in Chula Vista.
   Stanford sophomore Albane Valenzuela, the No. 3 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking from Switzerland, will square off against Pac-12 rival Robynn Ree, a junior at Southern California from Redondo Beach, Calif. and another of the Americans and Cali girls still alive.
   Valenzuela defeated Northwestern junior Stephanie Lau of Fullerton, Calif., 4 and 3, in the round of 16 while Ree went to the final hole to pull out a 1-up win over Karen Miyamoto of Japan, a sophomore at Washington, to reach the quarterfinals.
   The other two Americans still standing, Alabama junior Lauren Stephenson of Lexington, S.C. and Texas senior Sophia Schubert of Oak Ridge, Tenn., will face talented international teens in the other two quarterfinals.
   Stephenson has really had a spectacular summer as she also played the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open as one of five amateurs to make the cut at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. She rolled to a 5 and 4 decision over Arizona junior Gigi Stoll of Beaverton, Ore. to reach the quarterfinals.
   Stephenson will face Chia Yen Wu, a 13-year-old from Chinese Taipei, one of the survivors of an 11-for-8 playoff just to get into match play. All Wu did Thursday to reach the quarterfinals was take out Stephenson’s Alabama teammate, Kristen Gillman of Austin, Texas, 3 and 1. Gillman, a sophomore t Alabama, won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club on Long Island as a 16-year-old.
   Schubert, who led Texas to the Big 12 title and to a berth in the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms, stopped Zoe Campos of Valencia, Calif., 7 and 6.
   While Li seems to be the hottest player at the moment, Schubert will be facing a player on a pretty good roll right now in Isabella Fierro, a 16-year-old Mexico. Fierro took out Arizona junior Haley Moore, a local gal from Escondido, Calif.
   Earlier in the day, Fierro, who captured the title in the North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst earlier this summer, gutted out a 1-up decision over Yuka Saso, the 16-year-old from the Philippines who reached the semifinals at Rolling Green a year ago.

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