Yana Wilson has one goal in mind before playing a match: try to shoot 5 under par. The defending U.S. Girls’ Junior champion didn’t quite hit that mark in her Round-of-64 match on Wednesday at the United States Air Force Academy Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course, but three birdies, 10 pars and a bogey were good enough for the medalist to advance into the final 32.
“If you shoot 5 under, it’s pretty hard to lose,” said Wilson, 16, of Henderson, Nev., a University of Oregon verbal commitment for 2024. “And if you do [lose], then what can you do? I would say that was my approach to it. I wasn’t trying to force anything or force any birdies, just play golf.”
Wilson, who captured the junior portion of the LPGA Tour’s Mizuho Americas Open in June at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, and who was the runner-up in the recent American Junior Golf Association Rolex Girls Championship in John’s Island, S.C., didn’t lose a hole in defeating Ashley Kim, of the Republic of Korea, 5 and 4.
Birdies on Nos. 5 and 8 and a winning par on the fourth hole gave Wilson a comfortable 3-up lead at the turn. She won No. 10 with a par and birdied the par-5 11th before tying the last three holes.
Wilson got done before Mother Nature caused a 122-minute weather delay with 19 first-round matches still on the course.
Another high seed to get done before the suspension was University of Alabama rising sophomore Kaitlyn Schroeder, 18, of Jacksonville, Fla. The 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball runner-up cruised to a 6-and-5 victory over Taylor Baker. Schroeder, a quarterfinalist in this event in 2021, never trailed in registering four birdies against just one bogey over 13 holes.
“To go up early in match play, that applies more pressure to your opponent,” said Schroeder. “If you can go make pars, that means they have to go make birdies to get the match back to even. It’s really important to get off to a good start in match play.”
No. 2 seed Anna Davis, 17, of Spring Valley, Calif., who is No. 4 in the Women’s Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR) and the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, outlasted fellow AJGA Wyndham Cup competitor Thanana Kotchasanmanee, of Thailand, 4 and 2. The left-hander, recently named to the 2023 USA Women’s World Amateur Team, was 3-up with three to play when the horns blew. She broke open a tight match against the No. 63 seed with consecutive birdies on Nos. 12 and 13.
“I played against her at Wyndham Cup [in foursomes],” said Davis. “She beat me with her partner, so she’s definitely a great player. I think match play is just so much different than stroke play. She definitely made a lot of good putts, a lot of good saves that kept her in the match.”
Gianna Clemente, 15, of Estero, Fla., the 2022 runner-up who Monday qualified for three consecutive LPGA Tour events late last summer, grinded out a 1-up win over 13-year-old Emily Song. Clemente, who won this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in May with partner Avery Zweig, held a 1-up lead before the weather delay and then quickly took the 14th hole for a 2-up lead. Song got a hole back with a birdie on 15. Then on 18, Clemente matched Song’s excellent approach to 10 feet with a 4-hybrid from 190 yards to 7 feet. After Song missed her birdie attempt, play was briefly halted for the Academy’s daily Retreat and National Anthem that takes place at 4:45 p.m. With two putts to win, Clemente coaxed her putt to a foot and tapped in to advance.
“Not my best day, for sure,” said Clemente. “Made a lot of pars where I should’ve made birdies. But yeah, just had to grind through it.”
But not every marquee junior moved on. Even though she was seeded higher from stroke play, Audrey Rischer, 18, of Columbia, Mo., who is No. 1556 in the latest WAGR, upset world No. 78 and 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalist Bailey Shoemaker, of Dade City, Fla., 2 up. A rising high school senior who has verbally committed to attend the University of Oklahoma in 2024, Rischer birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take a 3-up lead and then held on against the incoming University of Southern California freshman.
“Coming into 18 my heart was racing so fast,” said Rischer, competing in her first USGA championship. “So I was just thinking, ‘Just play steady golf, play smart golf, don’t do anything stupid.’”
Match play continues on Thursday with the Round of 32 and Round of 16, beginning at 7 a.m. MT. The Round of 16 is scheduled to commence at 12:45 p.m. The quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for Friday with the 36-hole championship match on Saturday. Spectators are welcome to attend, and admission is free.
“It feels good. I haven’t played in very many singles matches and done well, so it’s nice to come out with a strong start.” – Anna Davis
“It’s been playing short, which is nice. Since I’m from Florida, the altitude is very different, so the ball is going really far, which I think has been a really big advantage for me so far this week.” – Kaitlyn Schroeder on playing in altitude
“I definitely feel like I have a lot more experience than I had last year. I’ve changed a lot since last year, since I pulled up to Old Stone. It was my first U.S. Girls’ Junior, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I had a little bit of match play experience prior, but obviously not as much as I have now…I definitely feel like I’m starting on a clean slate this year for sure.” – Gianna Clemente on being more experienced for her second U.S. Girls’ Junior
“She made this insane putt on 17, it was on the lower ridge and I thought ‘Okay, she’s going to two-putt, I’m going to one-putt, we’re done here.’ And she made it, it was crazy. So, I was definitely nervous because that gives her the momentum coming into the last hole, and anything can happen in match play.” – Sara Im after her 1-up win over Leia Chung
“I think my mental approach is a lot different now. I feel like I can tell myself I belong here, and I’m good. Just changing that mental switch where you just believe in yourself a little more, that’s happened a lot.” – Audrey Rischer when asked how her mindset has changed
“I wish I had played more holes so I could see more of the golf course. But it gives me a lot more time to practice what I need to work on for tomorrow. I’m going to hit the range after all the tee times go out, chip and putt a little bit, get everything prepped and prepared and then eat and sleep.” – Yana Wilson on mindset for Round of 32
“I was quite tired after waiting for a long time, I needed to just finish a couple of shots.” – No. 5 seed Tarapath Panya on waiting out a 122-minute weather delay to finish one hole in her 1-up win
“If anything, it gave me a little bit of a reset after the ninth hole. It let me reset and start over, in a way.” – Kiara Romero on the 122-minute weather delay
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.