Observations from the U.S. Women's Amateur
Some quick thoughts following the week at Charlotte CC and the 110th U.S. Women's Amateur, where Danielle Kang surprised a lot of people in winning the championship match, 2 and 1, over Jessica Korda last Sunday.
__1.) __Whether you believe Kang really is a changed woman--calmer, cooler, more collected on the golf course--after her experience at Oakmont CC and the U.S. Women's Open earlier this year, you had to be impressed with the way she handled herself late in the match versus Korda. For 22 of the first 24 holes of the match, the 17-year-old rising sophomore at Pepperdine, held the lead and seemed very much in control despite starting the day as the decided underdog. Then, in a six-hole stretch in the afternoon, things started to unravel. Kang's lead dropped to 1 up when she missed the fairway on the par-5 seventh (No. 25 of the match) and ultimately made a sloppy bogey. A Korda birdie on the 27th hole squared the match. A chunked third shot on the par-5 30th hole by Kang led to another bogey and for the first time all day Kang was trailing.
After the match, Kang said that she started to "panic" at that point. Maybe that was the case internally, but externally all you saw was a play collect herself and realize all she had to do was settle down, that there were plenty of holes left. Sure enough, she stuck her approach shot on the 32nd hole to five feet and made a birdie to return the match to all square, then capitalized on the one poor approach shot Korda hit all afternoon on the 33rd hole (missed the green left and landed in a bunker). When Korda could save her par, Kang's 4 on the hole gave her the lead. A clutch tee shot by Kang on the par-3 35th hole (8-iron to four feet) then help seal the victory.
2.) Anyone looking for a turning point in the match should consider what happened on the 28th hole. On the scorecard it seems non-descript, both players make birdie to halve the hole and keep the match all square, but Kang's 25-foot birdie putt was arguably the most important one she holed all day. Think about it ... Korda had just won two of the last three holes to get things back to even for the first time since the third hole. She had all the momentum. She saw Kang hit her approach shot on the uphill par-4 hole to 25 feet and then stuck her second shot to six feet above the hole. As they walk to the green, it looked like Korda might win another hole and seize the match at that point. And then, Kang rolls in her birdie putt, totally changing the scenario.
__3.) While losing the final match after having such a great run all week, Korda has reason to be pleased with herself. The 17-year-old high schooler has made impressive strides with her game since reaching the quarterfinals in her first Women's Amateur appearance a year earlier. Working with new instructor__Magnus Karlsson at Ivan Lendl's Champions Academy, she's fine-tuned her swing, standing slightly more upright at address to take better advantage of her 5-foot-11 frame (and gaining 20 yards of distance off the tee in the process). She also switched to a putt that was an inch longer for a more upright stroke on the greens.
One of the few blind spots in her game might be distance control from 100 yards and in, but you get the sense that with time she'll get that dialed in too. If I'm LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, I don't even think twice about giving her the wavier she's requested to compete in Q school this fall.
__4.) __Think women's amateur golf isn't child's play these days? Kang, who turns 18 on Oct. 20, is the sixth teenager to win the Robert Cox Trophy in the last seven years. The average age of the field this year was 19.98 with the average age of the quarterfinalists dropping to 19.125.
5.) She may not have been picked for the U.S. Women's World Amateur team, but Lisa McCloskey, who took Korda to 20 holes in their third round match after an impressive summer where the made the cut at the U.S. Women's Open and finished runner-up at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links and Women's North & South, will still play in the biennial competition in Argentine this October after all. The 19-year-old USC transfer will play for Colombia, where she was born and hold dual citizenship.
Photo by Steven Gibbons/USGA