5 Things: Bonanno surprises at Girls' Jr.; Wu endures

Sabrina Bonanno was the surprise player of the second and third rounds of match play at the U.S. Girls' Junior.

Sabrina Bonanno was the surprise player of the second and third rounds of match play at the U.S. Girls' Junior.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Andrea Lee2016CA69.34
2Nicole Morales2014NY69.75
3Bethany Wu2015CA69.79
4Megan Khang2015MA69.94
5Lakareber Abe2014TX70.19

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – If there’s an “it” girl around Sycamore Hills Golf Club this week, a good case could be made for Sabrina Bonanno. The 17-year-old from Illinois was responsible Thursday for taking down medalist Bailey Tardy in the second round of match play.

The best part of Bonanno’s history is that it’s lacking a crucial line of experience: match play.

“This is my first time playing it actually,” Bonanno said innocently on Thursday. It makes her 4-and-3 victory over Tardy and her subsequent 5-and-4 victory of Maria Fassi that much more exceptional.

Bonanno is petite, and her talent lies in her short game. She lived by the up-and-down in both matches, and the first victory bred confidence for the second even though she knew when she left the lunch room that you “can’t think it’s going to be an easy afternoon.”

When Bonanno closed out Fassi on the 14th hole, her gallery erupted. She even jumped into caddie Mike Malito’s arms. To come down from her match-play high, Bonanno says she’ll return to her host house and pop in a light-hearted movie. On Wednesday, she watched Spongebob Squarepants.

“That stupid humor gets me going.”

• • •

REASON TO WU: Though Bonanno was the player to come out of nowhere on Thursday, Wu was the one who survived arguably the toughest day. Nicole Morales took Wu to the 18th hole in the morning before Wu won with a par, then she went all 18 again in the afternoon with Samantha Wagner.

Fatigue aside, Wu called Morales the tougher match.

“Nicole just made everything,” she said.

In 36 holes, Wu never built a bigger lead than 1 up. She twice entered the 18th all square with her opponent, and both times won with par. The quarterfinals is farther than Wu ever had been in this tournament, and a victory here would be the biggest match-play title of her career.

“This is our national tournament as junior girls,” Wu said with pride.

• • •

RALLY CRY: Casie Cathrea staged a vital rally for the second day in a row. The Oklahoma State signee, wearing full orange, was 2 down when she reached No. 15, but threw out her second eagle of the day there. She had also made a 3 when she played her morning match against Jennifer Kupcho.

Cathrea went on to par the 16th as opponent Minjee Lee bogeyed. Cathrea's chunked chip at No. 17 once again gave the advantage to Lee, who promptly dumped her tee shot at No. 18 in a hazard. Cathrea won the hole with bogey to force sudden death.

Cathrea walked away the winner, leaving Lee, the defending champion, exhausted but in good spirits. She might head to Houston a few days early, she said, to join some Australian teammates at a stateside golf retreat.

• • •

GOING FOR HISTORY: A little excited, perhaps, at the prospect of closing out her third-round match against Maddie Szeryk at the 16th hole, Megan Khang struck her birdie putt just a tad heavily. Luckily, it bounced off the pin and Khang was left with just a tap-in for par.

Khang’s 3-and-2 afternoon victory was largely a product of the good feeling she carried over from her 3-and-1 morning victory over Andrea Lee.

“The momentum was kind of in my favor and I just tried to keep it,” she said.

At 15, and still nearly as petite as she was when she first entered this championship five years ago, Khang is now seasoned. She is one of only four players in the field (Cathrea, Yueer Cindy Feng, Morales) playing in her fifth U.S. Junior this year, and the one with the most eligibility remaining. If Khang plays the next two years, it ties a USGA record.

Khang said that made her feel a little pressure, especially because she has had to qualify for this championship every year, but it lifted a little when she heard this word: exemption. Now into the quarterfinals, Khang is automatically into next year’s championship. A semifinals berth would get her into the next two, and hopefully make her rest a little easier.

• • •

BRACKETOLOGY: The southeast corner of the match-play bracket was a tough draw early week. Some of the highest-ranked players in the field fell early thanks to the way seeds shook out.

Morales, Lee and Wagner all came from that corner of the bracket. Morales is Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked player and Wagner is No. 17. Lee is No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

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