(AUGUSTA, Mo.) – Jennifer Chang, 17, of Cary, N.C., and Erica Shepherd, 16, of Greenwood, Ind., each won quarterfinal and semifinal matches Friday to advance to Saturday’s 36-hole final match in the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Boone Valley Golf Club’s par-71, 6,311-yard course. The final, scheduled to begin at 6:45 a.m. CDT, will receive live coverage from 1-3 p.m. CDT on FS1 (Fox Sports 1).
Chang, who defeated Taylor Roberts, of Parkland, Fla., 5 and 3, in the semifinal, has not trailed in any match throughout the championship and has only been all square with her opponents for four holes through five matches.
“It's insane,” said Chang, a rising senior at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, N.C., who has verbally committed to attend the University of Southern California. “I think my mental game is at a good state, and you know, in match play like this, you never know what can happen. So, I try to take it one shot at a time and not get ahead of myself.”
Chang only birdied one hole in the semifinal against Roberts, who carded five bogeys in the match and was only able to win one hole against the more experienced Chang.
“My caddie, Connor, was talking to me about how you don't want to get too comfortable, because you can have a 5-up lead going into nine, and anything can happen,” said Chang, who is playing in her second U.S. Girls’ Junior and was a semifinalist in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner Gina Kim. “I didn't get too comfortable. I said it's not over until it's over, and that's just my mindset this whole week.”
Roberts was playing in her first USGA championship, though she had eliminated several top-ranked junior players, including the No. 20 female amateur in the world, Haley Moore, in the Round of 16.
“I knew she'd be a tough matchup,” said Roberts of facing Chang. “I mean, I could have won the match if I played my game, and I didn't play my game at all. I honestly don't know what happened out there. My swing felt a little off, and I didn't trust everything as I did on all the other matches.”
In the quarterfinals, Chang defeated Calista Reyes, of San Diego, 4 and 2, and Roberts eliminated Celeste Dao, of Canada, 3 and 2.
Erica Shepherd earned a spot opposite Chang in the final match by outlasting Elizabeth Moon in the other semifinal match, which ended in unfortunate fashion for both players.
On the 19th hole of their semifinal match, Moon, of Forrest City, Ark., had a short birdie putt to win the match over Shepherd and advance to the final. After Moon missed the putt, she reached across the hole and pulled her ball back, before Shepherd had an opportunity to concede the par putt that would have extended the match. Moon’s action resulted in the loss of the hole and the match.
As Shepherd explained, “I made my [par] 5. I hit my putt to a couple inches. She gave it to me. She had like a 5-, 6-footer for birdie. And, so I closed my eyes because I thought she would just make it because she had been playing good all day. When I hear that the ball doesn't drop, I finally open my eyes and she's already dragging the ball back. And, then like my coach was like, "Did you give that to her?"”
Though Shepherd had not conceded before Moon moved her ball, Shepherd added that she would have conceded the putt given the chance, but under the Rules of Golf, Moon had lost the hole. An explanation of the Rule can be accessed here: http://www.usga.org/championships/2017/u-s--girls--junior/articles/explanation-of-rule-18-2.html
“I thought that since I would have given it to her, it would be just fine,” said Shepherd. “I feel awful, and I feel like I lost, and I want to cry. I feel bad for her, but I couldn't do anything. We both tried to get it to where that putt was given to her but it just – it's the Rules of Golf. There's no after-the-fact. You can't.”
Before the playoff, Moon seemingly had control of the match in the final stretch. She led 2 up after birdieing the 14th hole, but Shepherd rebounded with a birdie on No. 15 and a winning par on No. 17 to square the match. In between, she also converted a difficult up-and-down on the par-3 16th to keep from going back to 2 down.
“I hate that tee shot,” Shepherd said of the 175-yard par 3. “I thought that I’d be down under the tree like I had been in stroke play and have to make a miracle up-and-down, but instead I had a flop shot, and I love flop shots.”
So, Shepherd moves on to Saturday’s championship match against a friend in Jennifer Chang.
“She’s one of my best friends,” said Shepherd. “We’ve played together a ton. A couple of weeks ago, she was on the East team with me in the Wyndham Cup, and she caddied for me.”
Playing in her third U.S. Girls’ Junior, Shepherd’s path to the semifinals included a 3-and-1 quarterfinal win over Youngin Chun of Gainesville, Fla., in which she only trailed for three holes.
In Moon’s quarterfinal match, the three-time Arkansas State Golf Association Player of the Year trailed Ami Gianchandani, of Watchung, N.J., through 15 of the first 16 holes before squaring the match with a birdie on the par-4 17th. Moon, who was playing in her first USGA championship, won on the 18th hole when Gianchandani was unable to convert her par putt.
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.