The Commonwealth of Kentucky takes center stage this week as The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green hosts the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. This is the sixth USGA championship to be held in the state, and the first time that the best female players under the age of 19 will compete here. By week’s end, one talented player will have her name inscribed on the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy.
With 2021 champion and current world No. 1 Rose Zhang no longer age-eligible, an opportunity awaits the next rising star in the game. In the past 15 years, several U.S. Girls’ Junior champions have enjoyed great success in the professional game, including a pair of U.S. Women’s Open winners, Ariya Jutanugarn (2018) and Minjee Lee (2022), who put on a dazzling performance last month at Pine Needles. Lexi Thompson is a past winner of the Chevron Championship (formerly ANA Inspiration) and Amy (Anderson) Olson nearly captured the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club.
By Saturday afternoon, one competitor from the starting field of 156 will join this pantheon of greats. Here are 3 Things to Know going into the 36 holes of stroke play:
This year’s field has a number of elite players, but none bigger than Megha Ganne. The world was introduced to the Holmdel, N.J., resident in June 2021 when she played her way into Sunday’s final grouping of the 76th U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club, and Ganne eventually tied for 14th. Already a four-time Drive, Chip & Putt national finalist, Ganne continued to shine last month when she posted a 3-0 mark in helping the USA Curtis Cup Team to an 11-point victory over Great Britain and Ireland at Merion Golf Club.
At No. 16 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, she is the highest-ranked competitor at Olde Stone. While the incoming Stanford University freshman hasn’t made any deep runs in any of her three previous U.S. Girls’ Junior starts, Ganne did advance to the semifinals of the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., losing to Albane Valenzuela in 19 holes.
With an ebullient personality to accompany her impressive game, Ganne is certainly one of the players to watch.
For all of their on-course accomplishments, which includes this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title in Puerto Rico, Sara Im and Thienna Huynh never qualified for a U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship before this year. Im, a past Drive, Chip & Putt age group champion who is planning to attend Vanderbilt University in 2023, was a member of last summer’s USA Junior Solheim Cup Team. Huynh, headed to Nevada-Las Vegas this fall, got into the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur field but hadn’t manage to break through at any of her previous U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifiers. She was last year’s Georgia State Golf Association’s Girls Player of the Year.
Winning the 2022 Four-Ball title landed both players spots in the U.S. Girls’ Junior as well as in next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, exemptions the USGA instituted last year for its men’s and women’s Four-Ball champions.
Now these Georgia teens have a chance to go for a rare USGA double – winning two titles in the same calendar year. It’s a feat accomplished by only three females: Pearl Sinn (1988 U.S. Women’s Amateur/U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links); Jennifer Song (2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur/WAPL) and Eun Jeong Song (2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur/U.S. Girls’ Junior).
Is there a better way to prepare for a USGA championship than playing in the biggest one of them all? Seven players, including the aforementioned Im, qualified for last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, with two – Bailey Shoemaker and Saki Baba, of Japan – playing the weekend. Baba and Shoemaker, a native of West Edmeston, N.Y., who has verbally committed to the University of Southern California for 2023, both finished in a tie for 49th on the demanding Pine Needles layout.
Shoemaker has enjoyed quite a ride the past 12 months. She advanced to the quarterfinals of last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, represented the USA in the Junior Solheim Cup, qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open and was the runner-up with fellow 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior quarterfinalist Kaitlyn Schroeder in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in April.
Shoemaker, who now plays out of Dade City, Fla., also won this year’s Florida Women’s Amateur and was second in the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. Baba competes mostly in her native Japan, where she recently finished ninth in her country’s national amateur.
The other four to play at Pine Needles last month were Kylee Choi, Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang, Nika Ito and Catherine Park, an incoming USC freshman who will be joined by Shoemaker next year.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.