Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title in April with partner Thienna Huynh gave Sara Im confidence she could perform well in a match-play situation. Qualifying for last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles and competing against the world’s best female golfers provided more valuable lessons for the rising high school senior.
All of those experiences have put the 17-year-old from Duluth, Ga., in position to accomplish something extremely rare: winning two USGA championships in the same calendar year. Im, who plans to sign with Vanderbilt University in November, won a pair of matches on Thursday at The Club at Old Stone to reach the quarterfinals of the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
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She is joined in the final eight by 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior quarterfinalist Yana Wilson, 15, of Henderson, Nev.; Gianna Clemente, 14, of Estero, Fla.; Justice Bosio, 18, of Australia, Reese McCauley, 16, of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.; Maria Jose Marin, 16, of Colombia; Fiona Xu, 17, of New Zealand; and Nicole Gal, 17, of Canada.
Temperatures weren’t quite as steamy on Thursday, but the mercury did reach into the low 90s with a heat index in the upper 90s. More than an inch of rain was dumped on the property, thanks to an overnight thunderstorm.
Im, the 2018 Drive, Chip & Putt age 12-13 division champion, is three victories away from joining Pearl Sinn, Jennifer Song and Eun Jeong Seong as the only female players to win multiple USGA titles in the same calendar year. Seong won the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur. Sinn (1988) and Song (2009) won the now-retired U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“I mean, it definitely weighs on my mind, yes, because USGA events, there's only really three or four of them we can play,” said Im, “and two of them are basically like impossible to win, the [U.S. Women’s] Open and the [U.S. Women’s] Am, as a junior. It's such a big honor to even have a chance to get two of them in one year.”
Im, a member of the 2021 USA Junior Solheim Cup Team, produced a pair of 3-and-2 victories on Thursday. In her Round-of-16 victory over Grace Kilcrease, of Springdale, Ark., she hit a 3-hybrid from 205 yards to within a foot at the ninth hole for a conceded eagle. That gave Im a 2-up advantage and she eventually closed out the match on No. 16.
Wilson is making a return trip to the quarterfinals, but this year, she won’t have medalist and world No. 1 Rose Zhang awaiting her on the first tee on Friday morning. In fact, the 2022 Annika Invitational champion has been texting with Zhang, the two-time USGA champion, who is in France playing in the Amundi Evian Championship, and 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen this week for match-play advice.
“[Rose] told me just to stay kind of even and told me to keep hitting fairways and greens and stay consistent,” said Wilson, a 4-and-3 winner over 2022 North & South Girls Junior champion Ting-Hsuan (Tiffany) Huang, of Chinese Taipei, in the Round of 16.
Just to reach the final 16, Wilson had to convert a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to eliminate Morgan Ketchum, of Winston-Salem, N.C.
Tight matches and comebacks were part of Clemente’s day in the Commonwealth. She rallied from 4 down with eight to play to defeat Adrian Anderson, of Murrells Inlet, S.C., 2 up, in the Round of 32 before knocking out Kiara Romero, of San Jose, Calif., 2 and 1. Romero was coming off a dramatic 1-up win over co-medalist and No. 1 seed Saki Baba, of Japan, where she birdied Nos. 14, 17 and 18 to overcome a 3-down deficit with five to play.
“I felt good about where I was at, me personally,” said Clemente about any momentum she had from her morning comeback. “But I knew Kiara, she's a great player. There's no denying that. I played with her before, and she's great. I knew I was going to have to do well. There's no getting around that.”
McCauley also staged a remarkable comeback in her 20-hole, Round-of-32 win over 2021 quarterfinalist Kaitlyn Schroeder. Two down with two to play, she birdied 17 and then made a 15-foot birdie on the par-5 18th to force extra holes, where another birdie on the par-5 second closed out the match. Then in the afternoon, she played the equivalent of 3-under-par golf – with the usual concessions – in beating Ashley Kim, 2 and 1.
Bosio, fresh off a quarterfinal appearance in last week’s North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, ended the championship hopes of Club at Olde Stone member Kynadie Adams, of Nashville, Tenn., with a 4-and-3 victory in the Round of 16. In fact, Bosio, played just 29 holes on Thursday. She defeated Mackenzie Lee, 5 and 4, in the Round of 32. Through three matches, Bosio has played only 42 holes, the fewest of any of the final eight competitors.
Marin, who plans to sign with the University of Arkansas in November, also had a quick day on the Arthur Hills design, needing just 28 holes to eliminate 2021 quarterfinalist Bailey Shoemaker, of Dade City, Fla., 5 and 4, in the Round of 32, and 2022 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Kylee Choi, of Murrieta, Calif., 6 and 4. This came after Marin barely survived her opening-round match on Wednesday, going 21 holes to oust Chun Wei Wu.
The 5-foot dynamo, who averages 245 yards off the tee, came into the championship with six junior victories in 2022, including the Junior Orange Bowl in early January.
“This is the best I've played in match play,” said Marin, who moved to Colombia from Mexico with her family when she was 3. “I'm really excited.”
The quarterfinal and semifinal matches will be contested on Friday beginning at 8:45 a.m. CDT. The first of the two semifinal matches are scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday’s 36-hole championship match is set to start at 6:30 a.m., with the afternoon round slated to begin at noon. Golf Channel has live coverage of the semifinals on Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EDT. Saturday’s coverage is from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT.
“Honestly, I don't think I have an advantage. I think everybody has an even playing field. Everybody starts out all square. We'll just see how tomorrow goes, and I'm really excited for it.” Yana Wilson when asked if she has any advantage in the quarterfinals after reaching that stage last year
“I think I really surprised myself with my ability to have a short memory, especially in match play. I play well in stroke play, but match play is completely different. You can make a triple and she can make a birdie and it only costs you one hole. It's definitely really different, but my ability to have a short memory this week was extremely valuable, and I'm hoping to go out and do that tomorrow, too.” – Gianna Clemente on what she’s learned about herself during the run to the quarterfinals
“Oh, my God, it's so hot. I just need to hydrate and play solid golf.” – Sara Im on the conditions
“They were both very good golfers. I'm honestly happily surprised to be where I'm at right now, but it's been fun.” – Reese McCauley on her quarterfinal run in her first USGA start
“I think I’ve been in pretty good form lately. I've been playing pretty well. I just came out of the North and South, obviously, lost in the quarters, so hopefully tomorrow I can go a bit deeper than the quarters.” – Justice Bosio
“I think one of the differences is that I'm really working on my distance, and that's helping me a lot. My mental game has been always strong, and I've just been continuing that process.” – Maria Jose Marin on the improvement in her game since losing in the Round of 64 in last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior
“I mean, great caddie (Isaac Hayden) this week. We had a lot of fun out there. I love to be positive, and it was pretty positive this week. Had some fun outside of golf, too. I've got a bunch of my friends here and they're doing well, too, so it's always fun when we all do well.” – 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball runner-up/2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior quarterfinalist Bailey Shoemaker after seeing her run end in the Round of 32
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.