Elizabeth Moon recalls U.S. Girls' Junior concession controversy as college nears

Elizabeth Moon and Erica Shepherd share a hug after Shepherd won the match on the first playoff hole during the semifinal round of match play at the 2017 U.S. Girls' Junior at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo. on Friday, July 28, 2017. (Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons) USGA/Steven Gibbons

Elizabeth Moon recalls U.S. Girls' Junior concession controversy as college nears

Junior

Elizabeth Moon recalls U.S. Girls' Junior concession controversy as college nears

It’s been roughly six months, but this is a memory that is permanently seared in.

So how well do you recall last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior semifinal, Elizabeth Moon?

“I still remember it very clearly,” Moon said with a laugh.

So do many others. Moon, of Forrest City, Ark., was involved with the most talked about junior golf moment of 2017 when during that semifinal match against Erica Shepherd, Moon missed a short putt on the final hole of regulation and, before her comebacker could be conceded, she raked the ball back.

When Shepherd uttered “I didn’t say that was good” in front of Fox Sports’ TV cameras, and Moon was subsequently given a one-shot penalty under Rule 18-2, losing her the hole and the match, a social media firestorm erupted.

Many expressed vitriol online toward Shepherd, who would go on to win the whole tournament, for having moved on with what they perceived was a cheap or mean-spirited trick. Despite some of the rough comments, Shepherd did come out on the other side and has offered an impressive profile in poise in how she’s dealt with all the heat. (A surge of support for the 2019 Duke commit against the tide of angry comments also helped.)

But of course there were two figures in this drama.

Despite what some felt, Moon never saw herself as the victim that day. In fact, when Shepherd sought her out in the locker room after the match, Moon told her competitor that situation was not her fault.

Speaking from the ANNIKA Invitational USA on Jan. 13, Moon has not altered that sentiment.

“I would (still tell Erica), ‘Everything’s good. Nothing was wrong with the ruling,’ ” said Moon, who placed T-29 at the ANNIKA. “So she shouldn’t feel bad.”

As for how that day has affected Moon, like Shepherd it has brought a mix of bad and good.

In the immediate aftermath, Moon felt trapped by being part of that experience. People often recognized her from that semifinal, and she was constantly bombarded with queries about that day.

“I felt like I was in a hole, and I was just like, ‘Please stop asking me the same question,’ ” Moon said.

It didn’t help either that some who approached the teenager were less than complimentary.

On multiple occasions, she was lectured by a stranger about her error in not waiting for a concession.

“I just hated it when people confronted me about it and said, ‘Yeah, it was your mistake,’ ” Moon said. “Like, I knew it was my mistake.”

She couldn’t escape, and it seemed like the forces around Moon were conspiring to keep her in the throes of that ordeal.

Just days after her U.S. Girls’ Junior semifinal loss, Moon was playing in the Southern Junior Cup, a match-play competition, in Oxford, Miss., as part of Team Arkansas.

Amazingly, at one point in the Southern Junior Cup, history repeated itself. During one match, a competitor thought a short putt was good and picked up but then was informed by his opposition (members of Team Arkansas) that it was indeed not conceded.

He was dinged a one-stroke penalty for breaching Rule 18-2. Moon wasn’t involved in the incident and it didn’t mean the match was over. Nor were there the TV cameras that amplified the situation at the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

But the moment was eerily similar.

And when the situation at the Southern Junior Cup arose, Moon’s and Shepherd’s names were brought up. The deja vu struck Moon hard.

“It just happened to me, so it’s like, ‘Why? Why is this happening again?’ ” Moon said.

The concession ordeal would have a longer lasting impact as well. Moon had suffered from the putting yips for at least a year heading into last summer.

She had gotten them cured with a combination of changing her putting grip (from conventional to left-hand low) and her putter grip (from conventional to the thicker Wynn AVS Putter Grip).

Elizabeth Moon, shown during the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

But for a time after the U.S. Girls’ Junior, she would think about the end of that semifinal on every short putt she hit.

Sometimes she stood over a putt, and the sensation of the yips returned.

“It felt like (the yips) kind of came back … My hands just kind of felt jittery,” Moon said.

Ultimately, she would back away each time, calm down and putt without the yips truly returning. But that process could be exhausting.

With the fresh memory of that ordeal gone though, Moon can now look back on the day with plenty of positivity.

A year ago, Moon got limited responses when she emailed college coaches. She felt bad, so she set a goal to play well in the summer of 2017.

Moon started on that path (and hearing from more coaches) when she medaled in her Cartersville, Ga., U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifier in June. Days later, she held the 36-hole lead at the AJGA’s St. Francisville Area Foundation Junior and posted a runner-up. Her semifinal appearance at the U.S. Girls’ Junior gained her more exposure and produced a flood of interest.

Moon, 18, loves the states of Florida and California, but her parents deemed the latter too far away from their Arkansas home. When Moon researched rankings, she saw UCF, a school she didn’t know about before, and was intrigued because of its solid ranking and placement in Florida.

She got in touch with the coaching staff a few months ago and there was a scholarship open. Moon, who also considered Georgia, Augusta, Kansas State, Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock, signed with the Knights in November. (Her college career will begin there in the fall of 2018.)

Moon and Shepherd have only seen each other in person once since that semifinal day, but they have connected online. Moon found her semifinal foe on Instagram a few months ago, and, after giving each other a follow, they’ve had some friendly conversations.

One thing that doesn’t come up: That semifinal day … because there’s really no need.

Several months after the biggest moment of 2017 in junior golf, Moon chooses to find the positives it brought.

“It was just a great learning experience, and after that tournament, I’ve always been more careful with my short putts,” Moon said. “I think it has actually helped me grow as a player.”

Sounds like another player has survived the crucible.

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