Georgians Huynh, Im Claim Championship in Puerto Rico
Georgia residents Thienna Huynh and Sara Im outlasted Kaitlyn Schroeder and Bailey Shoemaker, 1 up, on Sunday at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Puerto Rico to win the 7th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
Huynh, 18, of Lilburn, and Im, 17, of Duluth, become the second and third players from the Peach State to win this championship, joining Rinko Mitsunaga (Roswell) who won at Bandon Dunes in 2015 with Mika Liu in the event’s inaugural year. Huynh, a graduating high school senior who will enroll at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in the fall, also becomes the event’s second left-handed winner after Erica Shepherd in 2019.
Im, a high school junior, earned her second national title. In 2018, she captured the Girls 12-13-year-old division of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.
The victory also earned Huynh and Im, the 2020 Georgia Women’s Amateur champion, exemptions into this summer’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky., and the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
“It obviously means a lot,” said Huynh. “It's so surreal. [My mom] said on 18 green, ‘Can you believe that we're USGA champions?’”
Schroeder, 17, of Jacksonville, Fla., and Shoemaker, 17, of West Edmeston, N.Y., came into the 18-hole final on a tear, having played the equivalent of 31-under-par golf – with the usual concessions – through their first four matches, a total of 65 holes. They had averaged just over seven birdies per match, but could only muster four against Huynh and Im, who never trailed in the final.
“It definitely stings a little bit coming up short,” said Shoemaker, “but it was to one of our good friends [Im], and we definitely had a lot of birdies out there and that leads to a lot of confidence for us. We had the most birdies out there of any team (38 for the week), so we can say that for ourselves this week.”
Im’s chip-in birdie on the 399-yard first hole set the tone, and Huynh put the side 2 up when her short birdie putt on No. 3 was conceded. Shoemaker, a three-time New York State Girls’ Junior champion who has committed to the University of Southern California in 2023, rolled in a 20-foot birdie on the par-5 fifth to cut the deficit to 1 down, but their opponents won the sixth with a par and Huynh converted a birdie on the par-4 ninth for a 3-up at the turn.
The two sides exchanged birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 before Schroeder, who has committed to the University of Alabama in 2023, and Shoemaker tightened things up with wins on 13 and 14. Shoemaker made a 12-foot birdie on the 344-yard 13th and her tap-in par on the challenging 408-yard 14th won the hole.
After Huynh-Im, the No. 7 seeds from stroke play, birdied the par-5 15th, Shoemaker delivered the most dramatic shot of the championship as she nearly aced the 135-yard 16th. The ball lipped out and the birdie was conceded. Huynh or Im were now just 1 up with two to play.
But pars on 17 and 18 were enough for Huynh and Im, a six-time winner on the American Junior Golf Association circuit, to claim the championship. Three of their five matches this week went to 18, and a fourth ended on No. 17.
“I was standing there [on the 18th green] with my hands over my head, like did this just happen?” said a relieved Huynh.
In the semifinals contested earlier on Sunday, Schroeder holed out from a greenside bunker on the par-3 16th hole to propel the side past pesky Texans Amelia Guo, 16. of Seabrook, and Sam Houston State signee Grace Jin, 17, of San Antonio, 2 and 1, Schroeder and Shoemaker were 8 under par over the 17 holes, including an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. Guo and Jin were 5 under.
“When they got an eagle and we made birdie, we weren’t mad because we were making those putts that we needed to make,” said Guo. “It’s not like we were making mistakes.”
In the other semifinal, Huynh and Im broke open a tight match by winning three consecutive holes to defeat New Albany (Ohio) High School teammates Kary Hollenbaugh and Anna Ritter, 4 and 3. Huynh and Im, who played 4-under-par golf, sandwiched birdies on Nos. 11 and 13 around a winning par on No. 12 to put the match away.
Hollenbaugh, 17, and Ritter, 18, who are headed to Ohio State and the University of Illinois, respectively, this fall, could only muster one birdie, winning the par-5 fifth hole. It was their first USGA championship, although they qualified for the 2020 championship that was canceled due to COVID-19.
“We've played extremely consistently. It's been the same scores, minus 3, minus 4 the entire way. I think that's something that we have over our competitors is that we don't have a round where everything is going in or everything is not going in.” – Thienna Huynh on what makes her side so tough to beat in a four-ball format
“You want to know which one [of the exemptions] I’m most excited about? Guess what I have not qualified for yet and I’m 17? U.S. Girls. I want to play that [championship] so bad.” – Im
“I don't think there's one [specific] highlight that stands out, just the clutch putts to win holes, to halve holes, to win matches. It all just fits together as a great week and an experience that we will never forget.” – Kaitlyn Schroeder, summarizing the week with partner Bailey Shoemaker
“Oh, it's been amazing. Flying here for a tournament, it was a great venue. We were really proud of the way we played and hung in there. But they played really well. Sara [Im] and Thienna [Huynh], they deserved it.” – Kary Hollenbaugh, summing up the semifinal run with high school teammate Anna Ritter
“For me it was a big confidence booster. I haven't played a lot of match play, so to win three of our four matches was pretty good for us. It was a great experience, and I think it really helped our games.” – Ritter
“My game really improved a lot, especially my putting and my bunker shots. I think I'll be more confident whenever I'm in those situations [in the future].” – Amelia Guo on what she learned from her semifinal run with partner Grace Jin
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Joey Geske, an assistant manager of championship communications for the USGA, contributed to the story. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.