Fittingly, thick fog rolled in not long after the championship match was decided.
It is believed to be the most holes of golf ever played on the final day of a USGA championship dating to 1895, the year the Association began conducting national championships.
Due to the nearly 16 hours of fog delays this week, including 30 minutes before Saturday morning’s Semifinal matches, the USGA came up with a revised schedule on Friday that called for the Semifinals and the first 18 of the scheduled 36-hole championship match to be contested on Saturday, with the final 18 spilling over to Sunday morning.
But when players inquired about getting the entire 36-hole final done on Saturday, the USGA discussed the idea and offered both finalists an option. Noh and Pano are both headed to different competitions next week – Pano to the Wyndham Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition that starts on Monday at Old Sandwich Club in Plymouth, Mass.; and Noh to the Canadian Women’s Amateur in British Columbia – and mutually agreed to play as much golf as possible to avoid an extra day of play.
It’s a decision neither competitor regretted in hindsight, even if Pano had to play 51 holes on Saturday.
By winning the championship, Noh also earned an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.
“I mean, it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Noh of becoming a USGA champion. “It’s been such a long day, too. I just haven’t gotten to chance to fully realize what this all means, but it really means a lot to me. And to be able to win it right after [the Girls] Junior PGA [Championship], which is a really big accomplishment of mine. I knew I could do it, but I was a little unsure because I haven’t always had the best results in match play.”
Noh, who won last week’s Girls Junior PGA Championship in Lexington, Ky., with a record-24-under total of 264, recovered from an early 2-down deficit – the first time in six matches she fell behind by more than one hole – by winning three consecutive holes from No. 8 with birdies, two of which were par 5s. She drained a 20-foot uphill putt on No. 8, then reached the 514-yard ninth in two with a 3-hybrid from 240 yards, and adroitly two-putted for birdie. She was forced to lay up on the par-5 10th after a poor drive, but she knocked her third shot to 13 feet, which she converted.
Noh closed out the first 18 by hitting her 3-hybrid from 206 yards on the par-5 hole to 25 feet. Her eagle putt stopped 18 inches short of the hole for a conceded birdie. When Pano failed to convert from 10 feet, Noh had a 4-up lead at the break. Noh carded a 4-under 67 – with match-play concessions – to Pano’s even-par 71.
Momentum continued for Noh in the second 18 as she birdied Nos. 22 and 23 for a 6-up advantage. Pano did get two holes back with winning pars on Nos. 30 and 32, but Noh two-putted from 36 feet on the par-4 33rd hole to close out the match nearly 12 hours after play began.
“She played really solid the whole day,” said Pano of Noh. “I think in the beginning, I was just making some birdies, and she had some advantages on the par 5s, being able to be longer and to have easier shots into the greens. But I mean, overall, she just killed it the whole week and played insanely well. I can’t really complain with even par or 1 under and losing.”
In a Semifinal match on Saturday morning between two past Drive, Chip & Putt national champions, Pano eliminated medalist and No. 1 seed Lucy Li, 15, of Redwood Shores, Calif., 1 up. The match was all square going to 18 when Pano, putting first, rolled in an 8-footer for birdie. Li, a member of last month’s victorious USA Curtis Cup Team, had a chance to force extra holes, but missed her slightly uphill 7-footer on the low side.
Noh, meanwhile, defeated incoming Duke University freshman Gina Kim, 18, of Chapel Hill, N.C., 3 and 2. Noh played bogey-free golf with four birdies in the 16-hole match.
WHAT THE CHAMPION RECEIVESThe winner receives the following:
- A gold medal
- Custody of the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy for one year
- Exemptions into all future U.S. Girls’ Juniors, if age eligible
- An exemption into the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.), provided she is still an amateur
- Exemptions into the next two U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships, including next month’s competition at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs
Twenty-seven players who competed this week at Poppy Hills are headed to the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at The Golf Club of Tennessee, Aug. 6-12. Of those 26, 12 were exempt from qualifying, including both finalists. Yealimi Noh did qualify in California, so her spot now goes to the first alternate (Lauren Sung) from her sectional site. Alexa Pano withdrew from her qualifier, but became exempt by reaching the championship match of the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
All seven U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships conducted in the Golden State have now had at least one Californian in the final match (five champions and two runners-up).
Noh’s match-play caddie – she didn’t employ one in stroke play – University of California-Davis rising junior Yoonhee Kim will be competing against her longtime friend at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Noh and Kim went 1-2 in their qualifier at Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland, Calif., on July 2.
Pano, the runner-up, receives a three-year exemption into the U.S. Girls’ Junior and a silver medal; bronze medals were awarded to semifinalists Lucy Li and Gina Kim
Noh clearly took advantage of her length on the par-5 holes at Poppy Hills, playing those 30 holes in a combined 17 under par.
Pano was bidding to become the fourth 13-year-old to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior. She would have been the fourth-youngest champion behind Aree Song Wongluekiet (1999), Jenny Shin (2006), and Lexi Thompson (2008).
The 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior will be conducted at another public golf course: SentryWorld in Stevens Point, Wis., July 22-27.
Yealimi Noh on earning an exemption to play in next year’s U.S. Women’s Open:
“It’s just really amazing. This year, especially, because my friend, Patty Tavatanakit, she is a really good friend of mine, and she tied for fifth at the U.S. [Women’s] Open [at Shoal Creek], and I just was amazed. It was really cool because now next year I have the chance to possibly do the same. Just watching all the players and how they control themselves, how they react and just being on the course, I think I’ll learn a lot from them.”
Noh on her 17-under performance on the par-5 holes, and how she used her length to her advantage:
“I didn’t know that. That’s cool. Wow. I think it really gave me a big advantage because a lot of players had to reach the par 5s in three. Even reaching it in three, the greens are so tricky that you have to hit it in the perfect spot, especially on 9 with that back pin. Even if it’s like a super-long putt, just having it on the green and having the chance to two-putt for birdie was probably one of the biggest factors for me this week.”
Noh on how fatigued she is after playing 49 holes in one day:
“Yeah, like after probably the first 12 holes I was just like – actually just starting on the first hole [of the 36-hole final], I was like, oh, my God, my feet are already dying. I’m really happy that I had a caddie (good friend Yoonhee Kim). I think I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without my caddie this week. It’s the first time a friend has ever caddied for me in all the [match-play] rounds, too, and she just really helped me stay calm, and she helped me make good decisions that even I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ But it ended up being right, and she kept me calm and laughing on the course all the time.”
Alexa Pano on what she will take away from this week’s play:
“I don't really think that there’s much that I need to change in my game. I think it’s getting better at every aspect. Every part of my game probably needs some work, and I’ll do that before the U.S. Women's Am and hopefully come out and play match play the same.”
Pano on where her defeat of medalist and top seed Lucy Li in the Semifinals ranks among her career victories:
“Probably one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. Coming into this week, it’s been insane and such a struggle for me, switching between three different caddies and going through so many different struggles this week. It feels so good to just be in the finals finally.”
Gina Kim on what she takes away from the week:
“It’s definitely been a long week, but it’s nice to see that I improved a lot and to see that I matured more as a better golf player. I think as sad as it is to lose in the Semifinals and not being able to make it [to the final], I think I definitely learned something.”