At No. 45 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, Saki Baba was statistically the top player to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. With her second straight decisive match-play victory in as many days, the 17-year-old Baba has shown the caliber of play that earned her that ranking, and then some.
Baba, of Japan, soundly defeated fellow 17-year-old Bailey Shoemaker of Dade City, Fla., 7 and 6, in Saturday’s semifinal to earn a spot in the 36-hole championship match. Despite Shoemaker’s gutsy run to the semifinals and strong play to this point, Baba won five of the first seven holes and didn’t allow Shoemaker to get close.
An example of Baba’s killer instinct came on the par-4 10th hole. Already 5 up, she poured in an 18-foot birdie putt, punctuated by a fist pump, to win the hole after Shoemaker two-putted for par. The resulting 6-up lead was never threatened.
When asked if she was feeling confident today, Baba didn’t blush. “During the round I was just thinking, I’m going to win, I’m going to win, the whole time.”
For Shoemaker, it was a disappointing end to a strong championship season. After finishing runner-up with partner Kaitlyn Schroeder in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship in Puerto Rico, she tied for 49th at the U.S. Women’s Open in June and later that month became the first junior to win the Florida Women’s Amateur. Just three weeks ago, the USC commit made a run to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior. She will now look ahead to her senior year of high school and contending in future USGA championships.
Due to the Baba blowout, the first semifinal match to begin play was the second one to end, and ultimately saw Monet Chun of Canada defeat Annabel Wilson, 2 and 1. Chun, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Michigan, won the first hole with a conceded birdie after Wilson flared her second shot into the dunes and took two swings to extricate herself from a horrible lie.
Though Wilson got it right back with a win on the par-4 second hole, Chun’s steadiness was ultimately the key as she never fell behind Wilson and clinched the victory with a two-putt par on No. 17.
In high school, Chun stepped away from golf to rebuild her game after struggling with her swing. With renewed confidence this year, she won the Big 10 individual championship, the Canadian Women's Amateur and now has earned a spot in the U.S. Women’s Amateur final.
“I wasn't very steady swing-wise, so being here right now is actually a huge accomplishment for me,” said Chun. “I feel like this past year in school was probably the best I've played so far, so I'm pretty happy with where I am.”
Wilson, who up until today had not trailed in a match, was gracious in defeat.
“I think on the front nine I just made a few wrong decisions, and that put me in kind of no-zone areas and couldn't make up-and-down for par. But other than that, I was happy. I was able to keep going right until the end.”
The 36-hole championship final begins at 9 a.m. PT on Sunday. Golf Channel will broadcast live from 4-7 p.m. PT (7-10 p.m. ET).
“When I was at the [2022 U.S. Women’s] Open, I really enjoyed playing there, and knowing that it was going to Pebble Beach, I was really looking forward to it, so I’m really happy.” – Saki Baba on her exemption into the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open
“After Wednesday's match, I decided I was going to start being a lot more assertive on the reads, especially the long ones. I think that probably took a tiny bit of pressure off her because her pace is so good. As long as she saw what I was seeing and then she could just put it there and her pace is so good – I can’t even remember one three-putt she’s had all week. Her putting has been amazing.” – Beau Brushert, Baba’s caddie, on how their green-reading strategy has changed throughout the week
“It feels amazing, honestly. Coming into this week I couldn't imagine being in this spot, so yeah, I'm pretty happy about it.” – Monet Chun
“It's a great game. You’re always learning. You’re always battling, whether that's out on the course or even what you’re working on. So yeah, just keep going and keep staying with it.” – Annabel Wilson, following her 2-and-1 semifinal loss to Chun