For the first 18 holes of the final match, Andrea Lee appeared well on her way to the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior title. But the defending champion would not be denied.
Eun Jeong Seong sat 5 down through 13 holes and still faced a three-hole deficit at the halfway point of Saturday’s 36-hole closing duel at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., and then turned on the jets.
The 16-year-old won three of the first five holes in the second 18 to square the match and would win five of eight on the back nine to eventually secure a 4-and-2 victory.
The incredible swing – Seong won 12 of the match’s last 21 holes – meant a successful repeat, as the Southern Korean won the U.S. Girls’ Junior for the second consecutive year (and second time in three total attempts). Seong, No. 25 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, became the first player to defend since Hollis Stacy pieced together three straight U.S. Girls’ Junior wins from 1969-71.
Lee, ranked 55th in the Women’s WAGR, can only lament what she missed out on. The incoming Stanford freshman, playing in her fifth Girls’ Junior, didn’t sweat much the majority of match play, winning her first four contests 3 and 2, 4 and 3, 6 and 5, 4 and 3. It wasn’t until the semifinal that she got a huge challenge, as Lee, 17, sat 1 down through 16 before finishing birdie-birdie to snatch the last two holes and the match, 1 up, from Hye-Jin Choi.
The momentum carried to a final that saw Lee, who previously made it to the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur and twice before had reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, win Nos. 6-9 and 11 in moving out to a 5-up lead. After Lee and Seong traded wins over the next two holes, the defending champ started proving that this wasn’t going to be a blowout.
Seong had cruised in most of her matches as well, but was 2 down through six in her Round of 32 contest with Yu Chiang Hou before racing back to a 2-and-1 win. The scent of comeback began to permeate when Seong won Nos. 14 and 15, and after Lee captured 16, the South Korean knocked her approach close on 18 to move to 3 down.
That’s precisely when Lee’s putter couldn’t help in aiding the charge from behind. The Hermosa Beach, Calif., resident missed short par putts on the 19th, 22nd and 27th holes to allow Seong to square the match.
And once she got that opening, Seong took full advantage. She rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt at the 29th hole to take her first lead of the match, and then undoubtedly produced the most stunning shot of the match.
Facing a wedge third at the par-5 30th, she jarred the shot on the fly for an eagle to move two ahead:
— USGA (@USGA) July 23, 2016
From there, you could almost feel it was over. Lee hit an incredible off-balance bunker approach shot onto the green at the 32nd, but proceeded to three-putt – another short par miss – to fall 3 down.
Two holes later, Seong just needed to two-putt from 40 feet to win the title. She only needed one.
Two putts to win … Eun Jeong Seong only needed one.
— USGA (@USGA) July 23, 2016
The win bolsters Seong’s unbelievable success in USGA championships. She competed in her first one just three years ago at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she missed the match-play cut. She would reach the quarterfinals at the event the next year and place runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links that summer, too, before embarking on her back-to-back U.S. Girls’ Junior wins the following two years.
Seong and Lee both gained exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa., Aug. 1-7 for making the final at Ridgewood.
Seong became just the fourth player overall – along with Hollis (1969-71), Judy Eller (1957-58) and Nancy Lopez (1972, ’74) – to win multiple U.S. Girls’ Junior titles.