Anna Davis and Kiara Romero have forged quite a friendship through junior golf. Two months ago, they were partners in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., reaching the Round of 16.
Last week, they were paired together again in four-ball and foursomes (alternate-shot) at the Wyndham Cup in Santa Rosa, Calif., a Ryder Cup-style event conducted by the American Junior Golf Association.
They prepared for the 74th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the United States Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course by playing two practice rounds together this past weekend.
And on a hot Monday in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the two 17-year-olds each carded 4-under-par 68s to share the first-round lead of the stroke-play portion of the championship. Romero, of San Jose, Calif., produced a bogey-free round during the morning wave when temperatures came within a degree of matching the record high for the day (92 degrees). Davis, a left-hander from Spring Valley, Calif., started at the height of the day’s heat, but the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur fought her way through a roller-coaster round that featured eight birdies and four bogeys.
“We were both hitting it really well in our practice round yesterday,” said Davis of Romero. “So it’s nice to see her up there.”
They’ll enter Tuesday’s second and final round of stroke play one shot ahead of 2023 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Kaili Xiao, 14, of the People’s Republic of China, and Tarapath Panya, 16, of Thailand.
The group at 2 under par includes defending champion Yana Wilson, 16, of Henderson, Nev., 2022 runner-up Gianna Clemente, 15, of Estero, Fla., 2023 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Angela Zhang, 14, of Bellevue, Wash., 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur co-medalist Alice Ziyi Zhao, 14, of the People’s Republic of China, Clarisa Temelo, 17, of Mexico, and Helen Yeung, 17, of Clarksville, Md.
A year ago, at this championship in Bowling Green, Ky., Romero took out medalist Saki Baba in the Round of 32 – she would win the U.S. Women’s Amateur a few weeks later – before bowing out in the Round of 16. But Romero’s not thinking about medalist honors or even winning the title just yet.
“I’m just focused on my game and the shot that is right in front of me,” said Romero, who is headed to the University of Oregon this fall.
Romero, competing in her third U.S. Girls’ Junior, closed her round with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18, hitting an 8-iron to 8 feet on the par-3 penultimate hole and a 7-iron from 165 to 15 feet at the last.
Davis arrived in Colorado as the No. 4 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, having just been named to the USA squad for the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship this fall in the United Arab Emirates. Committed to attend Auburn University in 2024 with twin brother, Billy, who will play in next week’s U.S. Junior Amateur in South Carolina, Davis has competed in the last two U.S. Women’s Opens as well as the 2022 AIG Women’s British Open and Amundi Evian Championship. She’s made five cuts in eight starts in LPGA Tour-sanctioned events.
“I think it just helps me mentally, knowing that I’ve played against the best,” said Davis. “Knowing I’ve beaten a lot of the best, I have a good shot against these girls, who are elite golfers. It helps you mentally, just knowing that you’ve been in bigger situations, you’ve been in pressure situations and you can handle situations like these.”
Like Davis, the left-handed Xiao competed in the recent U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach, one of nine players in this week’s field to play the first women’s major championship on the iconic seaside layout. And like Romero, she managed a bogey-free round, holing a clutch 10-foot par putt on No. 9 – her 18th of the day – to post a 69. Xiao, a member of the Class of 2027, was one of two 14-year-olds in the field at Pebble. In June, she won the AJGA Colorado Springs Junior presented by Centura Health at King’s Deer Golf Club in Monument.
Panya, a recent semifinalist in the Colorado Golf Association Women’s Match Play, twice got it to 4 under par on her second nine, only to suffer bogeys on Nos. 15 and 18 in shooting a 69. She qualified for her first U.S. Girls’ Junior at nearby Country Club of Colorado.
All 156 competitors will play their second round of stroke play on Tuesday, beginning at 7 a.m. from the first and 10th tees. Following the round, the field will be cut to the low 64 scorers for match play, which commences on Wednesday. Should a playoff be necessary to determine the final spots in the draw, it would take place after the round on the seventh hole and continue forward until the spots are filled. Admission is free of charge and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“I missed like one fairway and two greens. It was pretty difficult to make putts out there with these greens, but I just tried to stay patient and be happy with the pars.” – Kiara Romero on bogey-free round
“There isn’t really a need to go super low on this golf course, it’s kind of a beast.” – Anna Davis
“This course is not easy. It’s hard. It’s really long…The greens are harder than Pebble Beach. It’s really hard to look at the break [of the putt] and [judge] the green speed.” – Kaili Xiao
“There’s really no difference to how I felt last year. This year, everyone’s reminding me that I’m the defending champion, but in my mind, I’m just trying to convince myself that this is a whole different course, a new year, not everything is going to go the same as last year. So, trying to keep myself humble, be confident in my swing and my game, and just play how I did last year.” – defending champion Yana Wilson (2-under 70) on her mindset
“I definitely just trash it out. Golf, there’s always going to be misses, and I definitely kept my head up and played my own game. I wasn’t going to let one hole ruin my round.” – Helen Yeung (2-under 70) on recovering from an opening bogey
“I was pretty nervous going into that first tee shot, you know, [the] biggest tournament I would say of my junior career. But I feel like I can perform pretty well under pressure. I just have to relax, smile, laugh it off, and I ended up hitting that first tee shot pretty well. After that, I fell into a rhythm.” – Logan Hale, the lone Coloradan in the field who hit the opening tee shot
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.