(AUGUSTA, Mo.) – Medalist Lucy Li, of Redwood Shores, Calif., never gave her opponent an opening, winning three of the first four holes on the way to a 7-and-6 victory over Belinda Hu on Wednesday. She will advance to the second round of match play in the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Boone Valley Golf Club’s par-71, 6,311-yard course.
“I played really solid today,” said Li, who is the youngest to play in both the U.S. Women’s Amateur (age 10, 2013) and the U.S. Women’s Open (age 11, 2014). “I only missed one green, and it was on the fringe, so I hit it really straight today. Made like a couple birdies, so it was really solid.”
The U.S. Girls’ Junior continues with the second and third rounds of match play on Thursday. The quarterfinal and semifinal rounds will be played Friday. The championship concludes with a 36-hole final on Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. CDT. Fox Sports 1 (FS1) will provide coverage all three days.
With the potential to play two matches tomorrow, the top-seeded Li plans to put her experience in past match-play championships to use.
“I played the Wyndham Cup a couple weeks ago, and we played 36 holes of match play two days in a row, so that helped me prepare for this,” said Li. Li will face Yu-Sang Hou of Chinese Taipei in the first match at 7 a.m. CDT Thursday.
Paphangkorn Tavatanakit, of Thailand, who earned the second seed in stroke-play qualifying, also turned in a decisive 7-and-6 first-round victory against Emily Mahar, of Australia.
“It was the best I've played in years I would say, and I would say the mental part was the best, too, in years,” said Tavatanakit, who will begin at UCLA this fall. “I didn't really think about sticking it close or making the putts at all. I just went with the flow, and it would roll in.”
Tavatanakit, who drained eight birdies through 12 holes on Wednesday, is hopeful her hot streak continues, but has learned not to think ahead. Better known as “Patty,” she is one of three players in the field who also played in the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. By missing the cut in the Women’s Open, she lost the chance to earn an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif., Aug. 7-13.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior gives the 17-year-old another shot at an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur. All she has to do is make the final.
“Still, anything can happen in match play, and I still have that mindset,” said Tavatanakit. “But, just taking it shot-by-shot is what I need to do for the rest of the week to try to make it to the finals.”
The other 2017 U.S. Women’s Open players in the field, So Whi Kang and Brooke Seay, defeated their opponents 1 up and in 19 holes, respectively.
“I don't think you ever expect to go 19 holes, but you never know what you're going to get in match play,” said Seay, who is playing in her fourth event in four weeks.
Seay, 16, held a 1-up lead on Elle Nachmann before she bogeyed the 18th, forcing the match to extra holes. Seay won on the 19th when Nachmann three-putted for bogey. Seay qualified for both the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur, which will be played in her hometown, by making the cut in the U.S. Women’s Open.
In the second round, Seay will face her good friend Brianna Navarrosa, 15, who is also from San Diego. Two other Southern Californians will face off in the round of 32: Karah Sanford of Escondido and Calista Reyes of San Diego.
“I think it's probably harder to play against a friend, but it might be better for nerves to be able to talk to someone down the fairway other than the caddie,” said Seay of facing Navarrosa. “So, it'll be a fun match, but we both want to win. It'll be tough.”
Haley Moore, who also calls Escondido home, is the highest-ranked player in the field with the No. 20 spot in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. She defeated Tze-Han Lin, of Chinese Taipei, 4 and 3, the first round.
At 18, Moore is grateful for the opportunity to play in the U.S. Girls’ Junior one last time, which became possible this year when the United States Golf Association raised the maximum age from 17 to 18.
“It definitely means a lot, and I'm really excited because at this tournament, we get spoiled,” said Moore, who graduated high school six months early in December 2016 to play for the University of Arizona and went on to finish runner-up in the 2016 NCAA National Championship. “It's probably one of the best tournaments the USGA puts on, so I'm really excited about it.”
Mika Liu, also 18, won her match against Jayna Choi, 4 and 2. Liu, who won the inaugural 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner Rinko Mitsunaga, is the only USGA champion in the field. She is playing in a championship record-tying seventh U.S. Girls’ Junior.
“I would call them the ‘younger generation’ because they all know each other, and I know a few of them, but sometimes I'm just not caught up in what's going on,” said Liu, of Beverly Hills, Calif., who will start at Stanford University in the fall. “I feel like a very old person.”
The two youngest players in the field, 12-year-olds Alexa Pano and Izzy Pellot, both of Florida, also won their first-round matches.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.