Notes: Dunne shows growth in victory at Girls' Junior

Brigitte Dunne plays her tee shot at the 19th hole during the second round of match play of the 2014 U.S. Girls' Junior at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Andrea Lee2016CA68.06
2Kristen Gillman2016TX69.26
3Angel Yin2017CA70.11
4Clare Amelia Legaspi2016CA70.65
5Mariel Galdiano2016HI70.87

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Barely visible near the crook of Brigitte Dunne’s left arm is the word “relentless,” temporarily tattooed in light grey ink. There isn’t a better word to describe Dunne’s comeback victory against Hailee Cooper on Thursday at the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

Dunne went 2 down to Cooper early in the day at Forest Highlands, but fought back to 2 up by the time she stepped onto the 17th tee, a par 3 increased to 235 yards on Thursday. Dunne hit her tee shot in a bunker short of the green and lost to Cooper’s par. Dunne then three-putted No. 18 to lose to another Cooper par, and suddenly found herself walking back to the first tee for sudden death.

In such situations, Dunne gets mad, which is why she sometimes need a mantra to repeat to herself. At No. 1, Dunne was mad, and she was relentless. She stuck a 9-iron to 30 feet, then made an easy 2-putt to advance.

“I just told myself there was no other option,” Dunne said.

This is Dunne’s second trip to the U.S. Girls’ Junior, but the first time she has made match play. A year ago, she got in her own way. She admits the Dunne of last year would not have been able to fight back against Cooper for a victory.

To prepare for this week – and for the next step, a college career at SMU – Dunne has been playing with the boys back home in Camarillo, Calif. They’ve taught her how to hit the ball farther, how to manipulate the clubface to move the ball and how to play under pressure. She plays the same tees as they do, and soaks up as much as she can.

“I like playing with guys because they’ll always want to do a match,” she said. “I’m naturally very competitive and I like to play match play.”

The best piece of advice she got before coming to Flagstaff?

“One of my buddies said play smart,” Dunne explained. “He said par is good.”

In sudden death, it served Dunne well.

• • •

STRONG TO THE FINISH: Few words were spoken during Thursday’s first match. You won’t find two more powerful players in this field than Angel Yin and Bailey Tardy.

Yin, this year’s medalist, and Tardy, last year’s medalist, went all 18 holes, and Yin finally won with a 25-foot birdie putt on the last green.

Yin won medalist honors by five shots after tying the course record then skated through her first-round match with a 4-and-2 victory over Julie Luo. The match against Tardy was the first pushback she’s gotten this week.

“She putted great, hit it great,” Yin said. “She played really well today. I think I played decent, too.”

The biggest surprise in watching Yin was her failure to reach the green at the par-3 17th and par-5 18th. Yin pulled 3-iron at No. 17, but left it short and in a bunker. Yin can hit every par 5 in two at Forest Highlands, and so pulled the 3-iron again for her second shot at No. 18. Thanks to a headwind, Yin left it short again, but was able to get up and in for birdie.

• • •

REMATCH: A year ago, the showdown between Bethany Wu and Samantha Wagner happened in the third round of match play. Wu won that match, and kept advancing all the way to the semifinals. On Thursday, Wagner got her chance for revenge.

Things turned out the same way.

“I birdied two of the first three holes and just took off from there,” said Wu, who made the turn at 5 up. She eventually won, 6 and 5.

“It was kind of a good match because she was still trying to fight through it,” Wu said.

The match against Wagner was a tables-turned kind of experience for Wu, who had to fight for everything in her first-round match against Sarah Rhee.

In match play, Wu is employing longtime friend Stephanie Lau, a Fullerton, Calif., native who failed to make it to match play. Wu, from Diamond Bar, Calif., and Lau went to preschool together, and will both transition to college golf in 2015 – Wu to UCLA, Lau to Northwestern.

• • •

COMPATRIOT CONCERN: When so few of your countrywomen are left in a prestigious tournament like the U.S. Girls’ Junior, knocking one out can cause survivor’s guilt. Marjiosse Navarro felt it Thursday, minutes after she had won her match against fellow Mexican Monica Dibildox, 3 and 1.

“It’s hard to play with another girl from your country because you don’t want to eliminate a girl from Mexico,” she said. “You want both to be in the tournament. It was really hard to play with her.”

Navarro isn’t wearing the Mexican flag this week because she’s wearing the Texas A&M logo. She’s the only player in this field who has completed a year of college. She still meets the age requirement (players cannot play after turning 18), so she came back to play a fourth and final time.

That worked in Navarro’s favor, not just because of the added experience but because of knowing the right people. Navarro’s college coach connected with the golf coach at nearby Northern Arizona University, and arranged for a member of the women’s golf team to carry Navarro’s bag this week. Enter Jacquie LeMarr, a Scottsdale native who played one season for UCLA two years ago before transferring to Northern Arizona. LeMarr brings a helpful amount of course knowledge.

• • •

SHAPE-SHIFTER: Kristen Gillman has yet to require more than 15 holes in her two matches this week. Showing allegiances to Alabama (the Austin, Texas native will be a freshman there in 2016) with her crimson-colored hat, Gillman is making it look easy. On Thursday, she went back and forth with Eunjeong Seong (medalist at last week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links), until going up for good at No. 7. Gillman won Nos. 10, 11 and 15 to close the match, 4 and 3.

“I felt the momentum go in my favor, but she was hitting shots really close all day so I knew that par wouldn’t win a hole,” she said. “You had to get a birdie if you wanted to win. In match play these last two days, I’ve played a little bit more aggressively than I usually do.”

Gillman shares a coach with last year’s Girls’ Junior runner-up, Lakareber Abe. Both players work with Justin Poynter at the Jim McLean Golf Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I haven’t been able to go to him that much this summer,” Gillman said. Like most juniors, she has a busy tournament schedule.

Still, Poynter has helped her become more creative, and has taught her how to hit a variety of shots. Gillman’s tendency is to hit a draw, but Poynter has helped introduce a fade. The two have also worked on trajectory and learning more pitch shots around the greens.

“I think I’m a lot more creative,” she said, “which helps.”

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