California natives Canales, Chacon surge to first-round lead at 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur

By Julia Pine, USGA

| Aug 07, 2023 | Los Angeles, Calif.

California natives Canales, Chacon surge to first-round lead at 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur

What Happened

Caroline Canales thinks she’s played Bel-Air Country Club at least 100 times. But none of those instances were as nerve-wracking as her first tee shot on Monday at Bel-Air's iconic par-3 10th hole, when Canales, 20, was given the honor of hitting the first ball at the 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur.

“I definitely felt the nerves with a big gallery watching,” said Canales, who grew up in Calabasas, just 20 miles from the iconic Los Angeles golf course. “That’s a tough tee shot. I think it’s one of the hardest holes. It was a nice honor and I’m really grateful for the opportunity, but I definitely felt some nerves there.”

Canales, a rising junior who was recently named to the All-Pac-12 First Team after an impressive sophomore season, is the only current member of the UCLA women’s golf team in the 156-player field. The team, whose campus sits adjacent to Bel-Air Country Club, plays the course twice a week during the school year, so Canales was able to put her local knowledge and familiarity with the George C. Thomas design to good use, carding a 4-under 66 to take a share of the first-round lead.

“The greens are in incredible shape,” said Canales. “I would say they’re faster than usual, especially given the heat. They’ve made them really fast and pure. I did notice they cut the rough a little bit, which made it slightly easier on some holes. But I think the set-up is really, really nice.”

Canales got off to a hot start, shooting a 3-under 31 on her first nine holes (Bel-Air's back nine), despite the back playing 1.78 shots harder than the front on Monday. She’d keep the momentum going as she made the turn, reaching 5 under after carding birdies on holes 1 and 2. 

Matching Canales with a 4-under 66 was Briana Chacon, 21, of Whittier, Calif., who is set to enter her fifth year at the University of Oregon this fall. Chacon, who went off in the afternoon wave, had just one bogey (on the par-3 10th hole) to go along with five birdies. 

“I played pretty steady all day,” said Chacon. “I was hitting it well, driving it well, was pretty consistent off the tee and I just had a few putts drop in. It was just a pretty easy-going round overall.”

Katie Cranston, 19, of Canada, finished her round with a birdie on the par-4 9th to end the day just one back of the lead. After an opening bogey on the 10th, Cranston played the rest of her first nine in even par before heating up after making the turn. She carded four birdies with no blemishes over her final nine holes. The Auburn University rising sophomore is playing in her second U.S. Women’s Amateur, having advanced to the Round of 16 in 2021. 

Seven players sit two shots off the lead at 2-under par. Among that group is Andrea Lignell, of Sweden, who is currently ranked No. 19 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, as well as Malia Nam, 23, of Kailua, Hawaii, who will begin her fifth year at nearby USC in a few weeks. 

What’s Next 

Round 2 will take place on Tuesday, with tee times again beginning at 7 a.m. PT and continuing through 2:27 p.m. The low 64 scorers after 36 holes will advance to match play. If a playoff is necessary to determine the last match play spots, it is scheduled to take place at 7 a.m. PT on Wednesday morning.


  • Play was delayed 40 minutes due to heavy fog in the morning.  

  • Jensen Castle, the only U.S. Women’s Amateur champion in the field, shot even-par 70. She sits at T19. Castle was the No. 63 seed in match play when she won the championship in 2021 at Westchester Country Club in New York. 

  • Ellie Szeryk, of Canada, aced the 116-yard, par-3 5th hole. It is the first hole in one in the U.S. Women’s Amateur since 2018.  

  • Hailey Borja (2-under 68) participated in the USGA’s Pathways Internship Program during the 2023 U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club in June. The 10-day experience exposed college students to different careers in golf by providing training, education and networking opportunities.

  • Sophia Dyer, of St. Petersburg, Fla., had the only bogey-free round on Monday, making 1 birdie and 17 pars. 

  • Bel-Air's back nine (+2.56) played 1.78 strokes more difficult in relation to par than the front nine (+0.78). All 12 eagles made and the three holes that played under par (Nos. 1, 8, 9) were on the front nine. 

  • Four caddies are either USGA champions or have played on USA Curtis Cup Teams: Tiffany Joh (2006, 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and 2008 Curtis Cup), for Brianna Navarrosa; Erica Popson (2012 Curtis Cup), for Isabella Rawl; Greg Puga (2000 U.S. Mid-Amateur), for Briana Chacon; and former UCLA standout Beth Wu (2016 Curtis Cup), for Annabell Fuller.

Malia Nam sits two shots back after Round 1

Former USC competitor Malia Nam sits two shots back after Round 1 after carding a 68. (USGA/James Gilbert)


“I had about 247 yards in and it’s playing downhill about 13 to 15 yards. I was like ok, my 3-wood would probably reach the front of the green and hopefully roll out, which it ended up doing and kind of went to the back of the green with a middle pin. Then I just sunk a really good 35-foot putt and that was it.” - Hailey Borja on her eagle on the par-5 8th hole 

I had a couple nice birdies coming down the stretch on the back nine and then made the turn with a reachable par-5, No. 1. I capitalized on that (with a birdie). And then I just stayed steady throughout. I think it was a good start. I’m just going to stay patient for tomorrow and focus on shooting a low number out there.” - Caroline Canales on her first-round play 

“We play about twice a week. I’m a [rising junior] so twice a week for probably two years excluding the summers. But I’ve definitely had my fair share of golf out here, especially on the front nine. A lot of the times we come out and play the front nine and then practice so I’m definitely comfortable out here. Comfortable on the greens and that makes it more fun.” - Canales on her familiarity with Bel-Air Country Club 

“It doesn't get old, that's for sure. Especially seeing myself everywhere, whether it's photos with the trophy or just like players to watch is something really cool. Especially knowing three years ago, nobody had ever heard my name, I was a complete underdog. Now players in this field who are like 12 years old or right out of high school and they're like, ‘wait, I know who that is, she won that one year’. It's really cool.” - Jensen Castle on returning as a champion 

“I feel like this course is definitely a ball-strikers’ course for sure. People who strike the ball well are definitely going to have a little bit of an edge. I think it's really important to know where to place the ball on the greens and also on the fairways and just be smart about where you're placing the balls.” - Briana Chacon on what it takes to be successful at Bel-Air

“I know Allisen really well. She's from Hawaii and I am as well. Even though she was older, we were always kind of growing up and playing junior golf together. Her winning the U.S. Open is incredible for Hawaii golf. We played college golf together as well, so it's definitely really inspiring to see someone that I've played with winning the U.S. Open. It's awesome for her and it's also great for me and knowing that if she can win a U.S. Open, I can too.” - Malia Nam on taking inspiration from 2023 U.S. Women’s Open champion Allisen Corpuz