ST. LOUIS – There’s a familiar hat at the U.S. Women’s Amateur that, over the years, has become a beacon of good golf. These hats feature one word: Korea.
Han Jungeun has been a member of the Korean national team for two years and wears her turquoise hat with pride. She defeated Lindy Duncan, who wore a Duke hat, 5 and 4 in the third round Thursday at Old Warson Country Club. The 16-year-old is the latest member of the elite Korean squad to gain notice on American soil.
In 2005, In-Kyung Kim won the U.S. Girls’ Junior and two weeks later earned medalist honors at the Amateur. The next year M.J. Hur advanced to match play at Pumpkin Ridge, and in 2007 both Ha Na Jang and Jennifer Song began their assault on USGA events. Both Kim and Hur now play on the LPGA while Song won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links earlier this year. The USC sophomore also advanced to the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon when she defeated Cydney Clanton, 2 and 1.
Jungeun won the equivalent of the Korean Amateur, also a match play event, in 2007 and ’06 and came into this week’s event with one goal.
“I want to win it,” Jungeun said through a translator.
While not much of what Jungeun said could be understood by someone unfamiliar with the Korean language, one thing was clear as day: Pak, Se Ri.
Like so many young Koreans, Jungeun was inspired at a young age by the success of Pak. Her father, Kwan Seong, doesn’t play golf and neither does the rest of her family. Kwan Seong trains quarter horses back home on Jeju Island and is on the bag this week for his daughter.
Jungeun’s track record in the U.S. is short but sweet. She first came to the States in 2007 to play in the Junior Orange Bowl and won it. She didn’t return until this summer to qualify for the Women’s Amateur.
“Koreans think this is the best amateur tournament,” Jungeun said.
Duncan, who enters her freshman season at Duke in the fall, won the first hole with par but gave it right back with a double-bogey at the second. Jungeun took control of the match on the third hole and never relinquished, fist-pumping her way around Old Warson with five birdies.
Jungeun will have her hands full in the quarterfinals when she faces 14-year-old Alexis Thompson, a favorite to win it all. Thompson disposed of Cyna Marie Rodriguez, 2 and 1, in the afternoon. Rodriguez will join Song at Southern Cal later in the month.
Song traded her “Korea” hat for a USC logo last fall. Born in Ann Arbor, Mich., but raised on courses just outside Seoul, Song has decided to identify herself as an American from here on out. She’s already a lock for next year’s Curtis Cup team.
Old news: Candace Schepperle, 21, feels ancient when she looks at who’s still alive. The Auburn senior is the exception to the rule this week, where youth reigns supreme.
“I have felt old for quite a while,” she said.
In fact, Schepperle is so old she was penalized for slow play in her second-round match. All joking side, Schepperle did lose the par-3 11th hole to Molly Aronsson due to slow play. She still managed to win, however, 4 and 3.
Schepperle suffered a similar fate at the Kraft Nabisco Championship earlier this year when she was stroked for slow play in the second round. She ended up missing the cut that week.
Auburn coach Kim Evans told Schepperle and teammate Clanton that she planned to arrive in St. Louis Thursday afternoon. Clanton, who carried her own bag this week, couldn’t carry her game into the next round, losing to Song on the 17th hole.
A win this week would be sweet redemption for Schepperle, who was gutted when her team failed to qualify for the NCAA Championship in the spring. She never won a college event despite placing in the top 10 each time out.
“Not going to nationals hit hard,” Schepperle said. “I’ve gone through a lot of downs in my career. Makes you tough and strong in the end.”