Gillman prevails at U.S. Women's Amateur

Kristen Gillman receives a hug from her caddie/sister Emily after winning the U.S. Women's Amateur on Sunday.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Andrea Lee2016CA68.03
2Kristen Gillman2016TX69.24
3Angel Yin2017CA70.08
4Clare Amelia Legaspi2016CA70.61
5Mariel Galdiano2016HI70.84

GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Kristen Gillman ate pizza and frozen yogurt for six consecutive nights this week. Apparently it’s the dinner of champions, for this 16-year-old Texan at least.

Gillman, a fan of pepperoni, proved a most worthy champion of the 114th U.S. Women’s Amateur. Her iron play on the back nine of the afternoon match was exemplary. Time after time, she put pressure on opponent Brooke Mackenzie Henderson with shots to 3 feet.

“I just keep fighting,” said Gillman, “because I don't want to leave here without the ultimate prize.”

Gillman, her mouth full of braces, beamed as she held up the Robert Cox Trophy. There were tears in her eyes on the 18th at Nassau Country Club after she knocked in a 2-foot birdie putt to win in her championship debut. She even saw her dad, Mark, cry for the first time.

“It means everything, but I’m just speechless,” said Mark, a software account rep who caddied for Kristen the first 18 of the final match. “Definitely a lot more than we expected.”

In truth, 46-year-old Mark was so exhausted he didn’t even feel nerves until the last few holes Sunday when it looked like his middle daughter might upset Henderson, one of the best amateur players in the world. Gillman’s flat-line personality proved huge under pressure as she birdied four of the last seven holes for the 2-up victory.

Henderson took the loss hard. Even though both finalists were only 16, Henderson was the one who carried all the pressure. The Canadian player was among the favorites to start to week while Gillman was the quiet kid from Austin who just had a career performance at the Junior PGA. Henderson, a three-time winner on the Canadian Women’s Tour, finished tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open. One was a regular to this kind of spotlight while the other dipped her toe in it for the first time.

Henderson couldn’t respond to Gillman’s clutch shots on the closing holes. She walked off the green immediately after the match concluded and made her way to the locker room. She later emerged to receive her runner-up medal and say a few words of thanks.

When asked by the media for a few comments, Henderson asked USGA staff and a couple reporters to give her five minutes. She then walked over to her sister and a family friend. The family friend, who caddied for earlier in the week, told the reporters Henderson had no comment.

The family left the property, but Henderson later gave an interview by phone.

“She was throwing darts, and that definitely affected my game a little bit,” said Henderson. “I was trying to match it, and a couple holes I was able to, and others I just didn’t.”

Henderson petitioned the LPGA to participate in Q-School, but her request for an age waiver was denied. Interviews after a tough loss are as important, and more telling, than those after a victory. Hopefully this was a learning experience for the talented young star. She’ll certainly find herself in many of these situations as a pro should her game continue to rise.

As for Gillman, a high school junior bound for Alabama in 2016, her schedule took a dramatic turn. Before the Junior Ryder Cup in Scotland later next month, Gillman will likely be chosen to represent the U.S. in the World Amateur Team Championship on Sept. 3-6 in Japan. She’ll also be regular at LPGA majors next year, as those exemptions come with the Women’s Am title.

When asked if she had played in any major championships before, Gillman asked, “Does the Girls’ Junior count?”

Welcome to the big leagues, Gilly.

Both players had their older sisters on the bag for the afternoon round as Emily Gillman stepped in for her dad. The Nebraska freshman flew in late Saturday night and helped keep Kristen calm. Her instructor, Justin Poynter, also made the trip and gave her a pep talk on the range before Gillman went out for the afternoon round 2 down to Henderson.

“The theme today was ‘I’m the best player on the course; I don’t care what the other girl’s resume is,’ ” said Poynter, an instructor at Jim McLean’s academy in Texas. “I’m just gonna prove it to you.”

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