3 Things to Know: 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur

By David Shefter, USGA

| Aug 05, 2023

3 Things to Know: 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur

The city of Los Angeles takes center stage for a second time this summer with the 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship set to be contested at Bel-Air Country Club. Two months ago, a George C. Thomas Jr. design was showcased as The Los Angeles Country Club hosted the first U.S. Open in the City of Angels for the first time in 75 years.

Now another one of Thomas’ gems is set to test the world’s best female amateurs. Thomas famously designed LACC, Bel-Air Country Club and nearby Riviera Country Club, site of the 2026 U.S. Women’s Open and 2031 U.S. Open. While Bel-Air most recently was the stroke-play co-host for the 2017 U.S. Amateur at Riviera, the layout has previously hosted a pair of USGA championships, the 1976 U.S. Amateur won by Bill Sander and the 2004 U.S. Senior Amateur won by Mark Bemowski.

The course’s signature hole is the par-3 10th, which is connected by an iconic white bridge. Players take an elevator up to the elevated tee. The par-5 opening hole offers spectacular views of nearby Century City. The club also is home to a number of celebrity members, including legendary play-by-play broadcaster Al Michaels, tennis Hall of Famer Pete Sampras, actors Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Jason Bateman, Dennis Quaid and Luke Wilson as well as former club president Jamie Widdoes, a retired actor who portrayed Hoover in the 1979 hit comedy “Animal House.”

The course itself meanders through four canyons and will certainly offer a stern test to the field of 156 competitors.

Here are three things to know:

Something Bruin

For many years, Bel-Air has been home to the UCLA men’s and women’s golf teams. The course is less than a mile from the Westwood campus and Eddie Merrins, the pro-emeritus at Bel-Air who was aptly nicknamed “The Little Pro,” coached the Bruin men to the 1988 NCAA title. A great player himself, Merrins was a two-time Southeastern Conference champion at Louisiana State University and a runner-up in the 1952 NCAA Championship. He competed in four U.S. Amateurs, five U.S. Opens, six PGA Championships and two Open Championships in Great Britain. He spent more than 55 years at the club teaching and coaching.

One current Bruin and a former UCLA player are in the field, while another alum will caddie. Rising junior Caroline Canales, of Calabasas, Calif., has been given the honor of hitting the opening tee shot off No. 10 at 7 a.m. PDT on Monday. An All-Pac-12 performer in 2022-23, Canales posted a 72.9 scoring average in 12 events, and shot the Bruins’ low round of the season, a 7-under 65, in The Match in the Desert. Canales also was named a Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar.

Aliea Clark, a former Bruin who grew up in Carlsbad, Calif., and now resides in New York, has been the runner-up in the past two U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, including 2021 when she advanced to the final match as the No. 64 seed. A graduate student at New York University, Clark, now 27, was the only mid-amateur to make match play in last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay.

And former UCLA All-American Bethany Wu, now an assistant coach at the University of Florida, will caddie for three-time Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup competitor Annabell Fuller, who is using her COVID season to play a fifth year in Gainesville. Wu should provide plenty of insight to Bel-Air. As a junior/college standout, Wu advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club and qualified for last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles. She also represented the USA in the 2016 Curtis Cup in Ireland.

Newly minted U.S. Girls' Junior champion Kiara Romero, one of 29 Californians in the field, will look to add the U.S. Women's Amateur title at Bel-Air. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

Newly minted U.S. Girls' Junior champ Kiara Romero, one of 23 Californians in the field, will look to add the U.S. Women's Ama title at Bel-Air. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

California Dreaming

Twenty-nine players from the Golden State – you can count another with Clark being a native – have qualified for this year’s championship, and they should be quite comfortable with the conditions, even with bentgrass greens found primarily in cooler climates.

A couple of Californians to keep your eye on are Anna Davis, of Spring Valley, and Amari Avery, of Riverside. Davis enters the championship as the No. 4 player in the Women’s Amateur Golf Ranking/WAGR®. The 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion was recently selected to represent the USA in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in the United Arab Emirates in October. The left-hander, who has committed to attend Auburn University in 2024, advanced to the Round of 16 in last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at the U.S. Air Force Academy Eisenhower Golf Club.

Avery, a rising junior at the University of Southern California, represented the USA in the 2022 Curtis Cup, going 3-1 in the Americans’ 15½-4½ rout at Merion Golf Club. Avery, who made the cut in last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach, arrives at Bel-Air at No. 10 in the WAGR.

And don’t forget about Kiara Romero, 17, of San Jose. The incoming University of Oregon freshman will look to become the second player to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year, joining Eun Jeong Seong, who achieved the feat seven years ago. Romero’s older sister, Kaleiya, a Pepperdine senior, also is competing.

Teen Queens

Going back to the 2000 championship, teens have hoisted the Robert Cox Trophy 15 times, including last year’s champion Saki Baba, of Japan, who will not defend due to a conflict with the AIG Women’s Open at Walton Heath in England. In fact, just six players 21 and older have won this title during that time frame.

The last 21-year-old winner was Sophia Schubert in 2017 at San Diego Country Club. Past USA Curtis Cup competitors Jensen Castle (2021) and Kristen Gillman (2018) were each 20.

And if you’re looking for a mid-amateur winner (25 and older), one must go back 45 years to Canadian Cathy Sherk, who was 28 at the time of her victory. JoAnne Gunderson (1968) and Barbara McIntire (1964) were both 29 when they won this title.

Besides Davis and Romero, some teens to watch at Bel-Air include 15-year-old Gianna Clemente, the winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in May (with Avery Zweig), 16-year-old Yana Wilson, the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalist and USC incoming freshman Bailey Shoemaker, two-time U.S. Women's Open qualifier and incoming University of Texas freshman Lauren Kim, 2023 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier and Pepperdine rising sophomore Jeneath Wong, and 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champions Sara Im (incoming Vanderbilt freshman) and Thienna Huynh (rising UNLV sophomore). Clemente comes into the Women's Amateur fresh off a three-stroke victory in the Girls Junior PGA Championship in Hot Springs, Ark., while Kim just claimed the Canadian Women's Amateur.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.