Just when it looked like the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur was going to be an all-college affair, that for the first time in several years there would be no teen phenom making a run for the most prestigious title in women’s amateur golf, Chia Yen Wu, a 13-year-old from Chinese Taipei, pulled out the most unlikely of victories.
Wu saved par on the 18th hole with a five-foot par putt to send her quarterfinal match with Alabama junior Lauren Stephenson of Lexington, S.C. to sudden death. Problem was, it wasn’t so sudden.
The sun was setting on San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif. when Wu finally ended it with one last bit of drama, ramming in a 20-foot par putt to finish the history-making match on the 30th hole. It was the longest scheduled 18-hole match in USGA history by two holes and the longest in the U.S. Women’s Amateur by three holes.
The victory makes Wu, one of the survivors from the 11 players who battled for the final eight spots in match play, the youngest player in the history of the tournament to reach the semifinals. She’ll draw Texas senior Sophia Schubert of Oak Ridge, Tenn. in one of Saturday’s semifinals. The other semifinal will pit Pac-12 rivals Albane Valenzuela, a Stanford sophomore from Switzerland, and Lilia Khan-Tu Vu, a UCLA junior from Fountain Valley, Calif.
And it looked for much of what turned into a long day that Stephenson would be joining them and make it an all-college semifinals. And not just any colleges, but four of the best in college golf.
But Stephenson just could not put away the feisty Wu, who had eliminated Stephenson’s Alabama teammate, Kristen Gillman, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, to get to the quarterfinals.
Stephenson kept getting good looks for birdie and just missing them. Well, she did make one after sticking her approach to three feet on the 18th hole, the 26th of the match. Problem was, she had to make it just to extend the match after Wu dropped a 75-foot bomb to make birdie herself.
I guess when stuff like that starts to happen, you have to figure it was meant to be for Wu.
The pair were playing the 18th hole for the fourth time in the Southern California dusk when Stephenson yanked her drive next to a tree. Wu’s approach went through the green. Stephenson chopped a 6-iron behind the front right bunker.
Stephenson left herself a long par putt from the back fringe, but Wu blew her chip shot 20 feet by the hole. Stephenson almost salvaged a miraculous par, but her left-to-right putt lipped out. And then Wu put an exclamation point on the epic match by draining her par putt to reach the semifinals.
Scotty Patel, the two-time club champion at San Diego Country Club who has been on the bag with Wu, had had just about enough when the match reached the tee for the 30th hole.
“My caddy just told me, ‘I want to go eat dinner,’” Wu told the USGA website. “He reads the lines pretty well and he tells me, ‘You can make it,’ and gives me confidence.”
Schubert denied another talented teen when she handed Isabella Fierro, a 16-year-old from Mexico, a 3 and 1 setback. But Fierro, who captured the prestigious North & South Women’s Amateur championship earlier this summer at Pinehurst, didn’t go out without a fight.
Schubert had built a 4-up lead through 10 holes when Fierro won the 11th with a par, the 12th with a birdie and the 13th with a par. Schubert still held a 1-up advantage, but she was on her heels. But Schubert, who led the Longhorns to the team title in the contentious Big 12 Championship, got it back to 2-up by winning the 15th with a par and closed out Fierro with a birdie at the 17th.
Perhaps the most impressive teen phenom of the week, 14-year-old Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, Calif., finally ran out of magic as she suffered a 4 and 3 loss to fellow Californian Vu, who was playing better than any woman in college golf for a stretch in the spring.
Vu knew Li was no pushover, not after Li ousted two of Vu’s UCLA teammates, Mariel Galdiano and Bethany Wu, in the first two rounds of match play and then took out the qualifying medalist, Stanford senior Shannon Aubert, to reach the quarterfinals.
The Pac-12 was the best conference in college golf last season and there was evidence of why all over the grounds at San Diego Country Club Friday.
Valenzuela set up the Stanford-UCLA matchup with Vu in the semifinals with a 4 and 3 victory over Southern California junior Robynn Ree of Redondo Beach, Calif. It will also be the No. 3 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking in Valenzuela against No. 5 in Vu.
Stanford, UCLA and Southern Cal were ranked 1, 2 and 6, respectively, by Golfstat heading into the NCAA regionals last spring. A Pac-12 team would win the national championship, but it wasn't one of those three. It was No. 7 Arizona State. It was that kind of year in the Pac-12.
A victory by Stephenson also would have made it three Americans in the semifinals. There was nobody left to carry the Stars & Stripes into the semifinals at Rolling Green Golf Club a year ago.
But hey, it wouldn’t be a U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinal without some precocious kid making a name for herself on the biggest stage of her young life. Even if it took 30 holes to do it.