Yana Wilson took care of business in the first stage of her U.S. Girls’ Junior title defense. Now she’ll try to become the sixth medalist to hoist the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy since 2002.
Wilson, 16, of Henderson, Nev., carded a 4-under-par 68 on Tuesday at the U.S. Air Force Academy Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course to earn medalist honors. Her 36-hole total of 6-under 138 was one stroke better than 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Anna Davis, 17, of Spring Valley, Calif. Davis, who shared the first-round lead with University of Oregon incoming freshman Kiara Romero, shot a 71 in the second round.
Romero, 17, of San Jose, Calif., finished third at 4-under 140 after an even-par 72.
A trio of players were four strokes back. Kaili Xiao, 14, of the People’s Republic of China, Tarapath Panya, 16, of Thailand and Anna Huang, 14, of Canada, posted 73, 73 and 68, respectively, in Round 2. Emerie Schartz, 15, of Wichita, Kan., the 2023 Kansas Women’s Amateur champion, was the only other player to finish in red figures after carding a second-round 71 for a 36-hole total of 143.
The fact that Wilson and Davis went 1-2 in stroke play should not come as a major surprise to those who follow junior golf. The two members of the Class of 2024 have developed a friendly rivalry since Wilson holed a 75-yard wedge approach for an eagle 2 on the first playoff hole to capture the 2022 Annika Invitational. In June, Wilson again edged Davis to win the junior portion of the LPGA Tour’s Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey by three points in the Stableford competition.
“[We] grew up playing together, so I wouldn’t say there’s a rivalry,” said Wilson of Davis, “but we just go head-to-head a lot. It’s just a coincidence because she’s beaten me in a couple of tournaments, too, so we just go back and forth. She’s a great player and a great competitor, and I’m sure she’ll do amazing this week.”
Wilson has enjoyed quite a summer leading into this championship. She was the runner-up in the American Junior Golf Association’s Rolex Girls Championship in John’s Island, S.C., and finished third in the Ping Heather Farr Classic in Mesa, Ariz., in April. She also competed in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach, along with Davis.
Now she’ll try to become just the fourth player in U.S. Girls’ Junior history – and first since Eun Jeong Seong in 2015-16 – to repeat as champion. The other two to achieve the feat are Judy Eller and World Golf Hall of Fame member Hollis Stacy, who won three straight from 1969-71. Wilson’s 68 matched the best score of the championship and was one of two sub-70 rounds on Day 2.
“[Medalist] definitely means a lot to me, but I tried to convince myself that it doesn’t really mean anything because we’re not even halfway through the championship, and hopefully I still have a lot of golf to play,” said Wilson of being medalist. “I’m going to try and keep my head steady … and just keep grinding.”
On Tuesday, Wilson registered six birdies against two bogeys, which came in consecutive holes (seven and eight). Then she posted five birdies in a seven-hole stretch, including four in a row from No. 12.
Davis, who is No. 4 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, couldn’t duplicate her eight-birdie performance from Round 1. Still, the left-hander who has committed to attend Auburn University in 2024 with her twin brother, Billy, managed four birdies against three bogeys, one of which came at the par-5 ninth, her last of the day, when she missed a 6-footer for par.
Romero, competing in her third U.S. Girls’ Junior that includes a run to the final 16 last year, produced five birdies in Round 2.
Huang, who missed the cut in her first U.S. Girls’ Junior two years ago when she was 12, played through pain to match Wilson’s 68. During a range session on Monday afternoon, she tweaked her lower back and the nagging pain continued through Tuesday.
“This morning, it was hurting a lot,” said Huang, who moved to Southern California three years ago and will be a freshman at the Pacific Academy in Irvine this fall. “I was just thinking I was going to try to hit the greens and keep it together. Everything was hurting, even when I was walking. I was really surprised [at my score].”
The championship now switches from stroke to match play with the low 64 scorers competing in a knockout format to determine the champion. The Round of 64 will begin on Wednesday at 8 a.m. MT. Matches continue through Saturday’s 36-hole championship match. Admission is free and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“I was just in the zone. My putter got hot within those four holes, and I was just hitting the ball very well.” – Yana Wilson on her four consecutive birdies
“I haven’t played many match-play events. Last year I didn’t play this event, I didn’t play the U.S. Women’s Amateur [because I was invited to the Evian Championship and AIG Women’s British Open]. I think you kind of have to have a different mindset. You make a bogey and it’s all right. You go to the next hole. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not bad at match play.” – Anna Davis on switching formats
“He taught me a lot about the greens out here and how the mountains play a big role in breaking putts and stuff.” – Kiara Romero on her caddie, Chuck Delich, who has been playing at Eisenhower Golf Club for nearly five decades.
“I think the pins were harder than yesterday, especially on the last hole (par-5 ninth).” – Tarapath Panya (69-73—142) on the setup for Round 2
“Match play is always different, mentally, because you’re not going against the whole field. You’re only going against one person. I definitely think you can be more aggressive when you’re playing match play. It should be fun.” – 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Sara Im
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.