A championship for the ages?
Friday, August 7, 2009
ST. LOUIS – History has been tracking Alexis Thompson for some time now, and yet again, the 14-year-old finds herself in a position to make it at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Thompson notched a nail-biting, 1-up win over Korean Han Jungeun in the quarterfinals and advanced to her first semifinal at a Women’s Amateur. She has a chance to become the youngest winner of the Women’s Am in the 109th playing of the championship.
“I don’t like losing, and I try my hardest to win,” said Thompson, who also has a chance to become the first player since Vicki Goetze in 1989 to win the Junior PGA Championship and Women’s Am in the same year. “As you saw today, I came back and I fought to come back.”
Thompson was alluding to a back-and-forth dogfight with Jungeun that at one point looked like a blowout. Last year’s U.S. Girls’ champion was 3-down through just four holes but panic was far from setting in.
“You know you’re not playing bad,” Thompson said. “You’re just getting beat because she’s playing good.”
Thompson stuck her approach to three feet on the 14th, and managed to square the match on the 15th because of what some might consider a match-play blunder from Jungeun.
A series of poor shots had Jungeun putting for bogey from 12 feet while Thompson faced a 30-footer for birdie on a slick, undulating green. Jungeun opted not to try her putt and conceded the hole to Thompson, despite the reasonable chance that Thompson could three-putt and Jungeun could hole her bogey putt.
“I was actually,” Thompson said when asked if she was shocked that Jungeun conceded the hole. “I was like, ‘Thank you.’ I’m not going to complain [about the hole being conceded].”
The match eventually came down to the 18th with both players all square and facing medium-length pitch shots. Jungeun pitched to four feet and Thompson – facing the pressure of a huge gallery and her championship hopes pitched to tap-in range for a conceded par.
To the surprise of Thompson and those swept up in the match’s drama, Jungeun missed her par putt.
“I was expecting to go to No. 1 [for playoff holes],” said Thompson. “I figured she would have made it with her eyes closed.”
Awaiting Thompson in the semifinals will be steely junior veteran Jennifer Johnson.
Johnson, who is bound for Arizona State in the fall, topped Auburn stand-out Candace Schepperle, 5 and 4, in the quarters.
“I don’t think this week’s been too easy,” Johnson said. “It’s been pretty mentally exhausting.”
Thompson and Johnson met in a singles match at the 2008 Canon Cup, an AJGA competition that pits West-based players against East players. Thompson came away the victor by a 3-and-1 margin.
“She’s a good player,” Johnson said of Thompson. “She’s just like anybody else.”
History will be the judge of that.
• • •
Thompson and her dad, Scott, will be a twosome for dinner tonight after Thompson’s good friend, Jessica Korda, was eliminated by Tiffany Lua in the quarters.
Korda, 16, called her putting “horrendous” in a 3-and-2 loss to Lua, an 18-year-old bound for UCLA in the fall.
Korda turned heads when she competed in the U.S. Women’s Open this summer and further impressed her large galleries at the Women’s Am. Korda, however, was concerned about her loss to Lua as she heads to the Junior Solheim Cup Aug. 17-19.
“I need to definitely practice my match play,” Korda said. “I should gain a little bit of something [from the Women’s Am].”
Korda and Thompson have eaten dinner together throughout the week, but Korda said she will leave St. Louis either tonight or early tomorrow morning.