Young Stars Steal Show as Championship Reaches Semifinals
Despite their young ages, Gianna Clemente and Avery Zweig are no strangers to USGA competition. Zweig, 16, is playing in her fifth U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, teaming up with Clemente, 15, for the last three, reaching the semifinals in 2021 and the Round of 16 in 2022. Clemente, who first burst onto the scene when she qualified as an 11-year-old for the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur, has since Monday-qualified for three LPGA Tour events, and last year reached the final match of the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Zweig already has a U.S. Women’s Open appearance under her belt.
The high schoolers entered this week’s 8th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball as a team to watch, their junior careers clearly making them a formidable threat. After rounds of 69-67 in stroke play, they entered the match-play bracket at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., as the No. 15 seed, and cruised through the first two rounds with a pair of 5-and-4 victories. In Tuesday afternoon’s quarterfinal match, Clemente and Zweig took the lead for good against Vanessa Borovilos and Cara Heisterkamp on the eighth hole en route to a 3-and-2 victory.
“We just know when to lift each other up and when to leave each other alone,” said Clemente. “We both kind of have that cliff where it's like, OK, I don't want to be talked to right now. And because we've been close for a really long time, I think we just know each other really well off the course and that translates really well on the course for us.”
Clemente and Zweig will face Leigh Chien, 17, and Anna Huang, 14, in Wednesday morning’s second semifinal match. The foursome also played together in stroke play, where Chien and Huang shot rounds of 68 and 72 to earn the 27th seed in match play. The duo took out defending champions Sara Im and Thienna Huynh, 1 up, in the quarterfinals thanks to birdies on four of their last five holes.
“They're two really solid players,” said Zweig of Chien and Huang. “Definitely going to be a great match. I know from our side, stroke play was vastly different than match play and can definitely bring out a different side of players. So it’ll be fun.”
On the other side of the bracket, Kate Villegas, 20, of Arcadia, Calif., and Tiffany Le, 19, of Covina, Calif., found themselves on the right side of a tough battle Tuesday morning, eventually knocking out the 2021 champions, Savannah Barber and Alexa Saldana, 1 up. Villegas and Le, who played together at the University of California Riverside before Villegas transferred to UCLA, overcame an early two-hole deficit and took their first lead of the match with a birdie on the par-4 11th hole, eventually sealing the deal with a par on 18. They then ousted 2022 quarterfinalists Sydney Hackett and Melanie Walker, 4 and 3. Villegas and Le played bogey-free 7-under golf over 15 holes to advance to the semifinals.
They will face Washington’s own Angela Zhang, of Bellevue, and partner Alice Ziyi Zhou, of Irvine, Calif., at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Zhang and Zhou, both 14, kept their impressive come-from-behind victory stretch going, battling back from an early 2-hole deficit to Ami Gianchandani and Kaitlyn Lee to secure a 1-up quarterfinal win.
“I obviously know this course well because I've been playing it for a long time,” said Zhang. “It’s also really open and I just feel like I can attack and also just be more conservative when I need to.”
In a Round-of-16 match that featured four players with first names starting with A, No. 5 seeds Angela Zhang and Alice Ziyi Zhao made nine birdies in 16 holes vs. Anna Kate Nichols and Avery Weed, who lost, 2 and 1, despite six birdies of their own.
2022 champions Thienna Huynh and Sara Im saw an amazing streak end in their quarterfinal match on Tuesday. Huynh and Im went 118 holes of match play – from the 11th hole of their Round-of-32 match last year to the 15th hole of their 1-down loss to Leigh Chien and Anna Huang on Tuesday – in which they never trailed for a single hole. That streak spanned six complete matches and parts of two others.
All quarterfinalists are exempt into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, Texas, as long as the side remains intact.
Two sides made their second straight appearances in the championship’s quarterfinals, defending champions Im/Huynh and Sydney Hackett/Melanie Walker, both of whom saw their week come to an end. The side of Clemente/Zweig made their second quarterfinal appearance, having also done so in 2021.
The semifinal matches will go off at 7 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, followed by the 18-hole championship match, which is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
“I would say my putter was on fire.” – Tiffany Le, who with partner Kate Villegas was 7 under par through 15 holes in their quarterfinal win
“It was so much fun. Of course we were trying to win again, but we wanted to have fun and play well. And we did that. Leigh and Anna just played better.” – Sara Im on her title defense with partner Thienna Huynh
“Gianna [Clemente] has been playing some phenomenal golf. I don't think I've seen better ball-striking out of anyone. When you have a partner that's hitting it down the middle every time, that's extremely helpful.” – Avery Zweig
“I think our games just really work so well together. We're really excited for what's in store tomorrow, and I think all of these past three matches taught us to never give up and just keep playing our game and see what happens.” - Angela Zhang