Stroke play is in the rear-view mirror at the 122nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. The starting field of 156 has been whittled to 64. Now, it’s time for the knockout rounds – five days of head-to-head matches to determine who will raise the Robert Cox Trophy at week’s end.
With five par 5s and flexible teeing grounds allowing for variable yardages on several holes, Chambers Bay is poised to be a thrilling course for match play. There are some familiar faces still in the mix – including six of the seven 2022 USA Curtis Cup Team members who started the week – and some new faces, like Alice Zhao, the teen sensation who has made more birdies (14) in stroke play than years she has been alive (13).
For the fourth time, a USGA champion will be crowned at this scenic municipal course overlooking Puget Sound. There promises to be drama, excitement, heartbreak and joy on the journey to get there. Here are three things to know heading into match play.
In an effort to retain her crown, reigning champion Jensen Castle posted 4-under-par 142 to earn the No. 15 seed. The University of Kentucky senior birded her final three holes on Tuesday to take some momentum into match play.
How tough is it to repeat in the U.S. Women’s Amateur? Only three players have successfully defended their titles since World War II: Kay Cockerill (1986, 1987), Kelli Kuehne (1995, 1996) and Danielle Kang (2010, 2011).
Castle isn’t putting any pressure on herself. Rather, she is soaking up the experience and enjoying the opportunity to make history: “I've been looking forward to the Am all year. I’m just appreciating the view and excited to keep playing Chambers Bay.”
Clearly, medalists Zhao, Latanna Stone and Laney Frye have played exceptional golf at Chambers Bay thus far. Their 10-under-par totals set new stroke-play scoring records in relation to par for the championship. But should they be wary of recent history?
Going low in stroke play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur hasn’t necessarily translated into success in recent years. Only two No. 1 seeds have won the title in the past three decades: Meredith Duncan (2001) and Amanda Blumenherst (2008).
But it’s not just the lack of victories that is notable. Since Blumenherst’s win, No. 1 seeds have lost in the Round of 64 seven of 13 times. Their overall record is a pedestrian 11-13 (46%), with Lucy Li the only top seed to advance to the quarterfinals (2016).
If we learned anything from the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, it’s that anything can happen on the 18th hole. That once again held true in stroke play during the Women’s Amateur.
The uphill par 5 that begins close by the railroad tracks bordering the water and finishes in the dunes was one of five to surrender an eagle and yielded the second-most birdies (74). But it also played to a stroke average of 5.14 (7th most difficult) because players made 25 double bogeys (2nd most) and four “others” (T-2nd most), including a devastating quadruple-bogey 9 by Yakima, Wash., native Cassie Kim that dropped her from safely inside the cut line to one shot out of a playoff.
If matches come down to the 18th this week, watch out for some potential fireworks as players battle to move on.
Mike Trostel is the director of championship content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.