Jordan Perez’s Guide to the Amateur Game
What’s hot, what’s not and what are the key spots around the golf world
By Jordan Perez
HOT: Rose Zhang
If you live under a rock, exit immediately. Rose Zhang is the real deal.
The 18-year-old phenom excelled in her final U.S. Girls’ Junior last weekend, becoming the eighth player to win the Junior and Amateur titles. Zhang is in the company of Kelli Kuehne (of the amateur golf royalty family), Pat Hurst and Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner. But she’s the first female to have won the Amateur (2020) first.
Zhang took medalist honors and followed with a dominant march through the match-play bracket until a semifinal meeting with Mexico’s Paula Miranda, who took the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champ to extra holes. Zhang, however, advanced with a birdie on the second extra hole at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, MD. Her final act? Defeating home-state favorite Bailey Davis, 6 and 4, in the 36-hole final. The charismatic Davis, an incoming freshman at Tennessee, was bidding to become the first Black female to win a USGA championship. Davis was well aware of who she was up against, having competed against Zhang in the past. She joked to The Washington Post that it’s the field against Zhang in tournaments. The finalists went back and forth in a tense opening nine before Zhang jumped to a 6-up lead and cruised to victory.
Zhang’s next move? This week’s Evian Championship, the fourth professional major championship of her young career. (She finished 11th at the 2020 ANA Inspiration.) Competing against the pros will be a nice warmup ahead of her U.S. Women’s Amateur title defense at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y.
The incoming Stanford Cardinal will be bidding to become the first player since Danielle Kang in 2010 and ’11 to win back-to-back Amateurs. Don’t bet against her. Zhang is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang: Gina Kim
One, two, three and to the four/
2021 ACC and North and South Women’s Amateur champ is at the door
OK, on the real, 2021 has been a marvelous year for Gina Kim. The Duke star is shining even brighter in 2021. Last weekend, the 2021 ACC individual champ conquered Pinehurst No. 2 to grab the highly coveted North and South Women’s Amateur. After escaping a 10-for-8 playoff to nab the final spot in match play, Kim upset No. 1 seed Abbey Daniels in the first round and never looked back.
Kim’s perseverance and mental toughness have been a work in progress. Duke assistant coach Jon Whithaus says that early in her college career Kim let the dilemmas and obstacles of competitive golf define her, but her great play in her junior year has come after Kim embraced a simpler, more relaxed mindset. “She’s clear on who she wants to be,” Whithaus says. Duke teammate Erica Shepherd says the key is Kim “bringing out her ‘non-golf’ self.”
Kim is as tenacious as ever on the course but has become a lighthearted playing companion. Describing their North and South round-of-16 match as one filled with laughter, Addison Baggarly says Kim’s presence is “refreshing,” adding, “We separate golf and our friendship so well. I feel like we would be happy for each other regardless.”
Kim’s win at Pinehurst propelled her into the top 20 in the amateur rankings. Her sights are set on representing the U.S. in the Curtis Cup in late August, where she would be a tough opponent and a popular teammate.
NOT: The 36-hole final in USGA events should be abolished
Rose Zhang played a whopping 147 holes over five days for her U.S. Girls’ Junior trophy.
Now, the amateur scene is no stranger to 36-hole days. It’s business as usual. The 36-hole final for the U.S. Girls’ Junior was enacted by the USGA in 2006. But to pile on (what could be, and then some) 36 holes at the end of a nonstop week? Talk about grueling.
The USGA has gone back and forth on 36-hole finals for its championships, but it remains the standard at the Amateur and the Juniors.
I’m all for extra carnage and unlikely comebacks, but who’s to say you can’t have that in an 18-hole final? Playing 18, every hole matters. An urgency and an intensity are often lacking in the opening round of a 36-hole final. There’s a reason TV usually only shows the final 18 holes. It’s time for the USGA to trim the fat.
U.S. Junior Amateur: This week the boys take center stage at Pinehurst. Kelly Chinn is the player to watch in his final U.S. Junior before he heads to Duke. On Tuesday, Chinn followed in Tiger Woods’s footsteps in becoming a multiple medalist at the Junior.
Evian Championship: Joining Zhang in the field is Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Tsubasa Kajitani, who will be looking to improve upon her missed cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. Among the collegians in France are South Carolina’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, Arkansas’ Brooke Matthews and Stanford’s Aline Krauter. Roussin-Bouchard, a former world No. 1, returns to her home country for her second start at the Evian.
3M Open: PGA Tour U grads John Pak, Quade Cummins (pictured below) and Angus Flanagan all earned exemptions into the 3M Open. Pak, a Florida State alum who had a T51 at the 2020 U.S. Open, has missed the cut in his four starts as a pro on the PGA Tour. Cummins, a standout at Oklahoma, is riding high off of a recent T3 at the Auburn University Club Invitational on the Forme Tour. Flanagan is playing the 3M Open for the second time, having previously qualified by virtue of his Minnesota State Open victory as an amateur in 2020. Ryan Hall of South Carolina, the lone amateur in the field, qualified after his win at the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational earlier in the year. The rising senior got his summer off to a good start with a strong showing at the Sunnehanna Amateur.