BEDMINSTER, N.J. – U.S. Junior Amateur experience doesn’t always translate into U.S. Junior Amateur success.
That was apparent on Wednesday when players who once enjoyed the glory of advancing deep at the event were upset in the Round of 64.
“If anything, I think experience might almost hurt you,” said Anthony Paolucci after his 1-up loss to Marcel Puyat. “Because you’ve made it far in the past… people might expect you to get top 10 in stroke play and win every match.”
Just as Paolucci upset junior titans Bud Cauley and Peter Uihlein en route to reaching the finals of the 2007 U.S. Junior, he was upset Wednesday by relative unknown Filipino Marcel Puyat.
Paolucci, No. 14 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, was composed and reflective despite the loss.
“It’s not bad to have experience, but if you’re 2 down with two to play, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I was supposed to win this match,’ ” he said. “You can’t say, ‘This is an automatic.’ ”
Though he had never played against Puyat, the Texan didn’t take him lightly. In the end, he fell victim to a balky putter and a bad break on the 17th hole. Forced to stand in a bunker, Paolucci’s approach shot from a severe sidehill lie found a greenside bunker and he failed to get up-and-down.
A part of him envied Puyat’s underdog position.
“I know I have to play as great as I can because I know what it’s like to be the underdog,” Paolucci said. “I thought I played well. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Nor was it meant to be for 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior champ Jenny Shin.
Shin fell to Isabelle Lendl in one of the more cruel ways seen in the Round of 64.
Shin was 2 up through six holes but surrendered her lead with bogeys on Nos. 9 and 10 to allow Lendl back in the match. Two more bogeys from Shin gave Lendl a 2-up lead.
At the par-3 16th, Shin’s tee shot came to rest 15 feet from the hole while Lendl was forced to negotiate a cross-country putt that she paced off at 93 feet.
Lendl sank the bomb, and not surprisingly, a jarred Shin couldn’t convert her putt.
“Yes,” Lendl said when asked if she’s ever made a putt that long, “but I don’t think it was to end a match.”
Shin was curt with her answers after the 3-and-2 loss. She missed the stroke-play cut at the 2007 Girls’ Junior, lost in the semis to Alexis Thompson in 2008, and will make an early exit this year.
Cindy Feng also received a parting gift. Outside of Victoria Tanco, Feng entered the Girls’ Junior on the heels of a stellar AJGA season.
Feng, who collected titles at the Thunderbird International Junior in May and McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship last week, fell to 96th-ranked Jackie Chang. Feng bogeyed the par-5 15th to square the match and Chang followed with a birdie at the 16th to go 1 up. She held on for the upset win.
The favorites who survived, however, did so in convincing fashion.
Jordan Spieth, Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, cruised to a 6-and-5 victory over Chris Houston and continues to make many believe he’s the likeliest candidate to reach the finals.
“I’m just kind of chillin’,” Spieth said jokingly. “Going in, I don’t want to feel like the favorite. In match play, it doesn’t matter how much you beat them by in stroke play. No one’s the favorite.”
Emiliano Grillo, at No. 4 the highest-ranked player in the field behind Spieth, rolled to a 2-and-1 victory while seventh-ranked Cheng-Tsung Pan squeaked out a 1-up win with a par to win the last hole.
As the U.S. Girls’ rolls on, all eyes will be on Alexis Thompson as she tries to become the first player to successfully defend her title since Hollis Stacy, who did it three times from 1969-1971.
Thompson never trailed in her 5-and-4 win over Jisoo Park in the Round of 64.
Standing in Thompson’s way is Tanco, who also cruised, 7 and 6, over Alina Ching.
The two are in opposing brackets and wouldn’t meet until the finals.
While the focus remains on Thompson and Tanco, 16-year-old Erynne Lee is presenting herself as a match-play veteran.
Lee, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, won, 5 and 4, over Veronica Valerio.
“It’s fun,” Lee said of match play. “You don’t have to finish every putt.”
Lee enjoyed her day so much that upon finishing her match, she asked the USGA rules official if she could play the rest of the holes.
Lee led after the first round of stroke play with a 67, but a 75 in nasty conditions left her tied for second.
“I was kind of relieved after the 67,” said Lee. “Because I didn’t really have to stress myself out.”
But for Lee – and the rest of the match-play field – the stress is just about to begin.