The first match-play round of the 2023 USGA championship season is in the books, and it produced the typical array of winning moments for some, disappointment for others and dramatic swings of momentum on both sides. Long before the warm sun began to dip over the Olympic Mountains, six of the seven stroke play co-medalists in the 8th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., continued their strong play to advance to Tuesday morning’s Round of 16.
Among them were the No. 2-seeded side of Shannon Aubert and Calli Ringsby. The 27-year-old former Stanford teammates, the two oldest players remaining in the field, used their experience and poise to pull out a late victory.
Heading into the par-4 17th hole 2 down, Aubert holed her approach shot from 100 yards out. With their backs still against the wall on the par-4 18th hole 1 down to Amelia Guo and Grace Jin, Aubert and Ringsby made par to extend the match and then made quick work of their opponents with a birdie on the par-4 19th hole to secure the 1-up win.
“The 18th was crazy,” said Ringsby. “Amelia and I were in the front bunker, Grace was long, Shannon was in the other bunker. I hit my bunker shot to an inch. And they missed their up and downs. On to the next hole, and Shannon hits it to 2 feet. Quite a swing of momentum there.”
“Match play is so dependent on momentum,” said Aubert. “You have to try and grind it out, even if it seems like nothing is going right. Calli did a really good job of continuing to push and push, put enough pressure, so that when we had the moments we could capitalize.”
The other co-medalists to notch victories on Monday were defending champions Thienna Huynh and Sarah Im; 2021 champions Savannah Barber and Alexa Saldana; 2022 runners-up Kaitlyn Schroeder and Bailey Shoemaker; Anna Davis and Kiara Romero; and 14-year-olds Alice Ziyi Zhao and Angela Zhang.
“We wanted to get a better seed this year, so we took stroke play more seriously,” said Shoemaker. “We wanted to put ourselves in good position and give ourselves the best chance.”
The side of Zhao and Zhang created memorable fireworks en route to their triumph over Malak Bouraeda and Morgan Miller. Neither side led by more than 1-up over the course of the entire match, though Zhang and Zhao found themselves on the wrong end of that margin as they played the 18th hole. Perhaps drawing on her positive Pacific Northwest memories from earning co-medalist honors in the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay, Zhao lined up a 65-foot birdie attempt and promptly made it, prompting Zhang and those watching from around the green to erupt in celebration.
“I wasn't sure it was going to get there!” said Zhao. “I've hit some long putts before, but nothing that long and nothing like that moment.”
Added Zhang, “It was the highlight of my golf career, and I wasn't even the one to putt! It’s a good reminder you are never out of it.”
The two sides battled for three more holes before Zhao again rose to the occasion, hitting a 108-yard approach shot on the par-4 21st hole to 10 inches to secure the winning birdie.
The most lopsided victory of the day belonged to Lindsay McGrath and Alissa Xu. The Canadian teenagers were the second alternates from their Commerce Township, Mich., qualifying site, and one week ago weren’t even sure they’d be in the field. They are making the most of their opportunity. Not only did they never trail in their match against Kyra Ly and Emily Song, but McGrath accomplished an improbably feat with two consecutive eagles on Holes 9 and 10.
On the par-4 9th, McGrath holed out with an 8-iron from 147 yards to give the side a commanding 4-up lead. On the next hole, a 507-yard par 5, McGrath pitched in from 20 yards short of the green, to the amazement and disbelief of all who witnessed it.
Tuesday is the first of two consecutive double-round days that will lead to the crowning of champions on Wednesday afternoon. The Round of 16 begins at 7 a.m. PDT, followed by the quarterfinals. The semifinals and 18-hole championship match take place on Wednesday.
“I had 147 in on 9. I hit a nice little draw, and it landed before the pin, and rolled in. Then on No. 10, I hit my drive a little wonky into the left rough. I got my 5-wood, and it went to 20 yards. Alissa hit it to four feet, so again I could go for it. And it went in again – I dropped my club and Alissa basically fell to the ground.” – Lindsay McGrath, on her back-to-back eagles on Holes 9 and 10
“I am so grateful. We didn't even know we were going to get in [as second alternates]. And then we didn't know if we were going to make the cut; we avoided that massive playoff by one shot, which would have been stressful, so we are just grateful.” – Alissa Xu
“As long as you can hit it well off the tee, the greens are really firm, so if you hit it well off the tee it better sets you up to control your distances into the greens. The course is very scorable and honestly fits both of us really, really well.” – Kaitlyn Schroeder, 2022 runner-up with partner Bailey Shoemaker
“We were really confident today. Just kept fighting. We really are trying to take this one match at a time. We know how long this week can feel, so staying focused and not getting ahead of ourselves is important.” – Alexa Saldana, 2021 champion with partner Savannah Barber
“Missing the cut last year was tough. That motivated us to come back stronger.” – Savannah Barber
“I enjoy the do or die moments. It's what it's all about, especially at this point in our careers. You start to question, do we still have it? If we have to make a birdie, can we? So it was fun to be able to show up like that.” – Calli Ringsby, 27, after a victory with partner Shannon Aubert, also 27
👉 𝐌𝐨𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐎𝐧 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐍𝐞𝐱𝐭 𝐑𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝— UCLA Women's Golf (@UCLAWomensGolf) May 15, 2023
Junior Kate Villegas and partner Tiffany Le win their Round of 32 match at the #USWFourBall with a score of 5&3. The duo combined for a bogey-free 8-under score. 🔥 #GoBruins pic.twitter.com/cVXD36C3TR