Final WAPL championship to conclude with first all-international final
DUPONT, Wash. - Fumie (Alice) Jo and Eun Jeong Seong will meet in Saturday's 36-hole final of the 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, being conducted at The Home Course.
Both players earned hard-fought 1-up victories in the semifinals. Jo, 15, of the People's Republic of China, survived a late comeback by Cindy Ha, 17, of Demarest, N.J. Seong, 14, of the Republic of Korea, never trailed against Alana Uriell, 17, of Carlsbad, Calif., but was never able to gain more than a one-hole advantage.
Jo certainly didn't have making the final of her first USGA championship in mind when she and her mother/caddie, Joy, made the trip to the United States on May 20.
"I just tried to play my best," said an overwhelmed Jo. "I didn't have very high expectations."
Following a seesaw first 10 holes, three consecutive bogeys from Ha at holes 11 through 13 handed Jo a 3-up advantage.
"I missed so many putts during the whole round today," said Ha, who was a quarterfinalist at the 2013 Women's Amateur Public Links. "It was just awful."
But just as quickly as Ha fell into the hole, she was able to pull herself out. Three consecutive birdies at holes 15 through 17 - none from more than 3 feet - brought the match all square heading to 18.
From the middle of the 18th fairway, Jo made perhaps the most clutch shot of the championship. With a berth in the final on the line, her 120-yard approach stopped 5 feet short of the hole.
"That shot, I didn't think I would hit it that close," said Jo, a ninth-grader at the Xiwai International School in Shanghai. "My mom's a good caddie, so she told me to relax. I couldn't have made it without her."
Ha two-putted for par after her approach rolled long to the back of the green, and Jo's short birdie tap gave her the victory.
"She just outplayed me (on 18)," said a rueful Ha, who will attend Vanderbilt University in the fall.
Seong twice earned 1-up advantages over Uriell through the first nine holes. But Uriell, an incoming freshman at the University of Arkansas, never let Seong run away with the match.
"My opponent did really well putting, so that was the pressure," said Seong, who is trying to become the first stroke-play medalist to win the championship since Candie Kung in 2001.
Seong again went 1 up with a birdie at the par-4 11th, and carried the advantage to the 18th hole. She looked to her father and caddie, Juill Seong, for some sage advice.
"My father said (to have a) slow backswing and breathe deeply," said Seong.
With a potential playoff on the horizon, both players made clutch approach shots on the 18th hole. Seong's birdie attempt from 15 feet missed just left, opening the door for Uriell. But Uriell's 12-footer heartbreakingly pushed just right.
"It needed to be on the left edge and I pushed it a little bit," said a devastated Uriell. "I got too excited. That was my miss all day, pushing my putts."
In the morning's quarterfinal round, Jo eliminated Dominique Galloway, 16, of Rio Rancho, N.M., by a 3-and-2 margin, while Ha defeated Sirene Blair, 19, of South Jordan, Utah, 3 and 2. Seong took a 1-up win over 2013 WAPL runner-up Doris Chen, 21, of Bradenton, Fla., and Uriell needed 20 holes to eliminate 2013 U.S. Girls' Junior champion Gabriella Then, 18, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
With this being the final playing of the Women's Amateur Public Links, it is only appropriate that this is a record-setting final. This will be the first final in WAPL championship history to comprise two international players. Should Jo win the championship, she would become the first player from the mainland of China to win a USGA championship.
Either Jo or Seong will become the second-youngest champion in WAPL history. Jo and Seong are both younger than Yani Tseng was when she won in 2004 at age 15. Michelle Wie was 13 when she won in 2003.
Coincidentally, the Jo-Seong final will feature the lowest combined ages in a final since 14-year-old Wie and 15-year-old Tseng faced off in the 2004 final.
Jo and Seong both receive exemptions into the 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, which will be held Aug. 4-10 at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y. They also receive exemptions into the 2014 U.S. Girls' Junior, to be held next week (July 21-26) at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz. Seong had already qualified for both championships, and Jo has declined the Girls' Junior exemption due to the quick turnaround required between championships.
The 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play. The championship is scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final at 8 a.m. PDT on Saturday.
The U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Tags: 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, Alana Uriell, Cindy Ha, Eun Jeong Seong, Fumie (Alice) Jo, The Home Course