Gillman runs away with Junior PGA victory
BRYAN, Texas – As she stood over a short par putt to wrap up victory at the Junior PGA Championship, Kristen Gillman saw her junior-golf peers surrounding the green at Miramont Country Club, water bottles in hand.
“I knew it was coming,” said Gillman, who sunk the putt for a closing 5-under 66 and an 11-shot victory, and then braced herself for a celebratory water-bottle shower.
“I still don’t think anything has sunk in,” Gillman said, “and I’m still kind of in shock and in my own world right now.”
Prior to this week, the 16-year-old Austin, Texas, native had never played in an LPGA event and had never participated in a Junior Ryder Cup. After Friday’s runaway victory at the Junior PGA, Gillman will accomplish both. She earned a sponsor exemption into the 2015 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and an automatic spot on this year’s U.S. Junior Ryder Cup squad.
“It feels awesome,” said Gillman, an Alabama commit who will play in next week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I’m so excited to play in both (the LPGA event and Junior Ryder Cup). I can’t wait.”
Gillman became the first player since Lexi Thompson in 2009 to hold sole possession of the lead in every round en route to victory. Also, her 16-under 268 total was a tournament record, breaking the previous mark of 271 set by Aree Song Wongluekiet in 1999.
She fell just short of recording the largest margin of victory, too. Debbie Hall’s 13-shot victory in 1977 still holds the record.
“I really wanted to break some records going into the round,” Gillman said.
Gillman began the final round with a six-shot lead over Samantha Wagner and Hannah O’Sullivan, but soon stretched it to double digits after three straight birdies to start her round.
She went bogey-free on the front nine, carding a 4-under 31, and finished with just one bogey. O’Sullivan and Wagner, meanwhile, shot 72 and 74, respectively, both missing out on the second automatic Junior Ryder Cup spot available to the runner-up.
That spot will instead go to Bethany Wu, who finished second at 5 under after a final-round 70.
“Getting that second spot in the Junior Ryder Cup is like a dream come true for me this year,” Wu said. “It was No. 1 on my list of things to accomplish this year, so I’m really happy.”
She’ll join Gillman on the team for the Sept. 22-23 competition at Blairgowrie Golf Club in Perthshire, Scotland. Gillman’s birthday is actually on the first day of play – “It will probably be one of the best birthdays ever,” Gillman said.
Four more spots available on the girls’ side will be officially announced Aug. 12.
Prior to Friday, Gillman had come close to winning big junior tournaments on several occasions, but each time fell short of victory.
She was a semifinalist at last year’s Polo Golf Junior Classic and tied for third earlier this summer at the Thunderbird International Junior. She also had top-six finishes at the Kathy Whitworth and Rolex Girls Junior, and made the Round of 16 at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur this year.
And then there was last year’s Junior PGA, where she was tied for the lead entering the final round before shooting a 1-over 72 and finishing two shots back in a share of third.
“I only went to the last hole one back (last year) and I still felt like there were some (things) out there that I could’ve done (to win),” Gillman said, “and this year I just wanted to get revenge.”