KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. – Mark Gillman hasn’t a clue where his middle daughter, Kristen, learned to be so clutch.
“It’s not me,” Mark said. “I don’t even think my wife has played sports. I always tell her she’s adopted, but we look too much alike.”
Time after time, 20-year-old Kristen brought the heat when it mattered. It added up to a 7-and-6 drumming of future Alabama teammate Jiwon Jeon of South Korea in the final round of the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur. Gillman joins the likes of Juli Inkster, JoAnne Carner and, most recently, Danielle Kang as a multiple winner of this event.
The first victory came as somewhat of a shock to a 16-year-old Gillman, who almost didn’t compete in the 2014 Women’s Am because the turnaround from the Junior PGA was so tight. But she showed up in a mighty way on Long Island, defeating a young Canadian hotshot named Brooke Henderson in the 36-hole final.
The first one was pure joy, Mark said. The second one at picturesque Golf Club of Tennessee – relief. Gillman broke down in tears when it was over, a rare display of emotion from a player who almost never changes expression. The even-keel demeanor Gillman displays is one of her greatest strengths, much like an Inbee Park or Lydia Ko.
“I think this one was a lot harder,” Gillman said. “… every time I come back now, I’ve always talked about how – like this week, I was the only champion in the field, and so I feel like that kind of brings a little bit more pressure along with it. But I think it also makes the victory a little sweeter, too.”
Alabama head coach Mic Potter was overseas recruiting in Ireland when three of his players advanced to the semifinals. Jeon outlasted Lauren Stephenson in 23 holes to reach the final match.
Gillman, meanwhile, birdied the 18th hole two days in a row to extend her match into overtime and both times won with par on the first playoff hole. In the 36-hole final, Gillman built a big lead early, taking a 5-hole cushion into lunch despite losing the 17th and 18th holes.
After a nearly two-hour break, Gillman and Jeon returned to the first tee, where they talked about the start of school in Tuscaloosa. Gillman actually hosted Jeon on her official visit, but this marked the first time they had played golf alongside each other.
Gillman continued her putting clinic, never truly opening the door for Jeon.
“Kristen’s victory today places her among the elite female amateur golfers of all time,” Potter said.
It also points toward a promising professional career as the well-rounded Gillman already owns a title on the Japan LPGA. Gillman is exempt into the second stage of LPGA Q-School thanks to her Rolex Ranking of 176. Her current plan is to defer LPGA status (should she earn it) until after the spring semester. Gillman will graduate from Alabama in three years.
Sunday’s victory earned Gillman a spot in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Ireland this month, which she accepted. She also receives an exemption into next month’s Evian Championship, but due to the amount of school she’ll be missing, she isn’t sure she’ll compete.
“I think we’ll have to look at everything because (with) Q-school I’m going to be missing so much school,” Gillman said, “so I don’t even know if my teachers will pass me.”
Gillman, by the way, is a 4.0 student. Clutch in every way. Gwk