Soon-to-be Alabama teammates Kristen Gillman, Jiwon Jeon face off in US Women’s Amateur final

Kristen Gillman US Women’s Amateur final -Steven Gibbons/USGa Steven Gibbons/USGA

Soon-to-be Alabama teammates Kristen Gillman, Jiwon Jeon face off in US Women’s Amateur final

Amateur

Soon-to-be Alabama teammates Kristen Gillman, Jiwon Jeon face off in US Women’s Amateur final

KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. – It wasn’t long ago that Alabama junior Kristen Gillman hosted Jiwon Jeon at her Tuscaloosa apartment during an official recruiting visit. Jeon, a junior college transfer, ultimately signed with the Tide for the 2018-19 season. The two are familiar with one another but have yet to actually see each other play.

That’s about to change. The soon-to-be Alabama teammates have advanced to the final of the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Sunday, a 36-hole marathon held at steamy Golf Club of Tennessee.

To get there, Gillman converted yet another must-make on the 18th to extend her match against Arkansas’ Kaylee Benton. One day after Lucy Li three-putted the first extra hole to lose to Gillman, Benton followed suit on the par-3 10th.

And if that wasn’t dramatic enough, Jeon drained a 15-footer on the 18th hole push another Alabama star, Lauren Stephenson into overtime. The last time both semifinal matches went to extra holes was 1900.

Last year in San Diego, Stephenson was part of the longest match in USGA history – 30 holes. She found her way into history again, this time by taking part in the longest semifinal match in Women’s Am history, besting the mark of 22 holes set in 1915. Both times Stephenson found herself on the wrong end of the deal. Jeon, 21, won the 23rd hole with a six-foot birdie putt.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really confident before I came here,” said Jeon. “I was actually not going to play this tournament. But I came here, and then now my confidence got really rising. It’s like I’m 90 percent or more confident about my game golf right now.”

She’ll take on a confident Gillman, who first won this title in 2014 over a highly-ranked Brooke Henderson. Gillman was 16 at the time. When asked what it would mean to put her name on the Robert Cox Trophy one more time, Gillman said, “I think it would mean everything to me, because I know how hard it is to win.”

Earlier this summer Gillman became the third player to go 5-0 at the Curtis Cup. She’ll have a chance to actually match the effort of Margaret Curtis for longest span between Women’s Amateur victories. Curtis won in both 1907 and ’11.

Jeon’s road to Kingston Springs can be traced back to a decision she made at the age of 15, when she moved from South Korea to Australia to attend a golf academy. It was a high school coach that suggested she try American college golf. Jeon first committed to Washington but couldn’t get her test scores high enough to get in.

Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur helped Jeon get to Daytona State, where she won the NJCAA individual title in May along with several Division I tournaments. She’s currently ranked No. 10 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Jeon, whose parents were up all night in South Korea watching her compete on television, was the first in the family to get into golf. She counts Se Ri Pak as a personal hero, along with Tiger Woods.

Both Gillman and Jeon hired local caddies, though Jeon pushed her own cart for the first three rounds. Now she has Erik Fiske, a bearded man whose nickname at the club is “Jesus.” Jeon said she has yet to actually call him Jesus, or anything else really, as he’s been close to her side all day.

Four years ago Gillman had her dad on the bag for the first 18 hole sand then older sister Emily took over after lunch. Mark Gillman served as caddie early in the week but said the heat was too much. He took to the shade as a spectator, and on Sunday he’ll be joined by wife Laura, who is flying in from Texas.

Mark got onto this Southwest app after Saturday’s victory to change their flights once more, pushing them back to Monday.

While Jeon and Gillman worked out what specially ordered lunch they wanted on Sunday in between rounds – the club will make the two finalists anything they like – Stephenson made one last stop in the Sweet Spot, a pink-and-white room filled with candy and ice cream in the players’ locker room.

It was another tough loss for Stephenson, who choked back tears as she met with media. A USGA official presented the Alabama senior with a bronze medal. She’ll be a professional before this championship is held next year.

“It’s pretty tough,” said Stephenson, “… but I mean, to make it this far is great. I mean, it’s all I could ask for.”

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