Lucy Li Defeats Medalist Shannon Aubert in 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship

By  | 

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Li, of Redwood Shores, Calif., never trailed in her 1-up victory over medalist Shannon Aubert in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship on San Diego Country Club’s par-72, 6,423-yard course.
Aubert, who shot a 9-under 135 in stroke play, which tied for the second-best stroke-play score in U.S. Women’s Amateur history, bogeyed the first two holes against Li, but came back with a birdie on the fourth hole. Li, who was the medalist in the U.S. Girls' Junior two weeks ago, answered on the par-3 fifth by draining a 40-foot putt for birdie to regain a 2-up lead.
“I just putted really well,” said Li, who became the youngest player in U.S. Women’s Amateur championship history at 10 years, 10 months and 4 days old in 2013. “I made a lot of really good putts today. That was good.”
Aubert, a rising senior at Stanford University who resides in Stuart, Fla., when she’s not in school or playing golf in Europe, made things interesting, stringing together three birdies starting on No. 15, where she stuffed a 200-yard approach shot to 2 feet, cutting Li’s lead to 3 up.
Then on the par-5 16th, after Li’s approach flew the green and her chip-in for birdie lipped out, Aubert drained a 5-footer. With momentum on her side, Aubert, 21, watched as her approach on the 17th rolled to within a foot of the hole, which Li conceded prior to missing a chip-in for par.
Li held a 1-up lead heading to the 18th hole, which played as the most difficult in stroke play, producing only 21 birdies over two days, and neither Li nor Aubert had played it since Tuesday. With the hole location tucked behind a large, sloping bunker, Li, who in 2014 became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history at 11 years, 8 months and 19 days old, attempted to go for it on her approach, but ended up in the front-left bunker, and Aubert landed just off the back of the green.
Putting first, Aubert’s ball lipped out after hitting the flagstick, then Li’s shot from the bunker landed to within 4 feet, which she made to win the match.
“I've learned a lot about match play because I used to get really flustered or upset after I hit a couple bad shots or maybe started to let leads slip away,” said Li, who is heading to the quarterfinals for the first time in 10 USGA championship appearances. “I’m learning to be a lot more calm on the golf course, which has helped.”
En route to the Round of 16, Li defeated two 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team members: Mariel Galdiano, 4 and 3, and Bethany Wu, 6 and 5, in the first and second rounds, respectively. She will face Lilia Kha-Tu Vu, a rising junior at UCLA, who is playing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur since 2010, when at age 12 she and 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Hannah O’Sullivan were the youngest players in the field.
The 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, conducted by the United States Golf Association, is open to female amateur golfers with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 5.4. It consists of two 18-hole rounds of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Sunday.
On the other side of the match-play bracket, Chia Yen Wu, a 13-year-old from Chinese Taipei, defeated 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman, 3 and 1, to advance to the quarterfinals.
“In the afternoon, I know I played with a very strong player – a champion,” said Wu, who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2016 but withdrew due to a knee injury. “So, I just tell my caddie [Scotty Patel, a San Diego Country Club member and former club champion], I want the same as her, do the same as her.”
Playing in just her third match-play event, which includes a very recent experience in the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago, where she made it to the Round of 32, Wu is excited about her success so far in San Diego. She said she is trying her best to match her opponents stroke for stroke, which was apparent against Gillman, against whom she gained momentum with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 to go 2 up. She also birdied 16 and 17, where she clinched the match.
Notably, Wu eliminated No. 2 seed Julianne Alvarez in the first round after qualifying for match play that morning in the morning resumption of an 11-for-8 playoff that ended due to darkness on Tuesday. Only two 63 seeds have won a USGA championship: Steven Fox (2012 U.S. Amateur) and Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links). Wu, the youngest remaining player in the field, will face Lauren Stephenson, a rising junior at the University of Alabama and one of five amateurs who made the cut in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I'm really excited because this is the furthest I’ve made it,” said Stephenson of making it to the quarterfinals after losing in the Round of 64 in the 2013 and 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateurs. “Just to be here is a great opportunity to test my game against the best, especially in match play. It's such a fun format. I think the more experience you have, the better off you are. I've had four years of experience, so I'm not really too nervous out there, just kind of taking it in as it comes, and enjoying the moment.”
In the other quarterfinal matches, Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, will face Robynn Ree, of Redondo Beach, Calif.; and Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, will take on Sophia Schubert, of Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Valenzuela, who at No. 3 in the Women’s Amateur Golf Ranking™ is the highest-ranked player in the field, only trailed for two holes in her 1-up, second-round victory over Cheyenne Knight, and led the entire third-round match against Stephanie Lau, winning 4 and 3.
“It was a really good round,” said Valenzuela, who was one of three amateurs to play in the 2016 Olympic Games, causing her to bow out of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur so she could attend the Opening Ceremony. “I played very steady the entire 15 holes, didn't make a lot of mistakes. I had a bogey-free round and four birdies. Made some really good putts, like 6-footers, and just putts to save pars or make birdies. Overall, I'm really pleased with my game. I drove it really well, and it was a tough match, but just staying patient, it could turn out my way.”
Born in New York City to a Mexican father and French mother, Valenzuela became a Swiss citizen at age 14. Now a rising sophomore at Stanford University, she finished runner-up by one stroke in the European Ladies’ Amateur Championship two weeks ago after heading into the final round with a seven-stroke lead.
“I had a tough, kind of a tough week last week at the European, so I came in this week hungrier, and just wanting to perform,” said Valenzuela, who was one of three amateurs to make the cut in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open and tied for low amateur in the 2016 ANA Inspiration. “This is just the best amateur tournament you have in the world. It's organized just like the U.S. Open that I got to play last year. I think it's exactly the same, if not better. I mean, this is just -- if you get to win this, I mean, you're good with your amateur career.”
Ree, who finished co-runner-up in the inaugural 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship with 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Hannah O’Sullivan, posted the second biggest win in championship history in her second-round 9-and-8 win over Tze Han Lin, of Chinese Taipei. She defeated Karen Miyamoto, of Japan, 1 up in the third round Thursday afternoon.
“I feel like I'm putting well,” said Ree, the first alternate in the U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who found out she was playing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur on July 29. “I feel like I can read the greens better, and definitely my putting speed is helping me a lot, too, because these greens are difficult.”
After being eliminated in the first round in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Fierro routed hometown favorite Haley Moore, 18, of Escondido, Calif., 6 and 4, in the Round of 16. Schubert also handily won her third-round match against 14-year-old Zoe Campos, 7 and 6. Neither Fierro nor Schubert, who is playing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur, trailed in their afternoon matches.
“Haley is a great player, and I knew she was really confident in her game and everything, but it's match play, and the best players in the world are playing here,” said Fierro, 16, who is coached by Rafael Alarcon and won the 2017 South American Women’s Amateur and 2017 Women’s North & South Amateur championships. “Today, I was feeling really, really happy in the past days, and I'm really enjoying this. Having the coach on my bag, he is helping me with a lot of things. Actually, I hit great shots today, and I think I'll take that with me tonight.”
All eight quarterfinalists are exempt into the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur, which will be conducted Aug. 6-12 at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs. The U.S. Women’s Amateur champion traditionally receives an exemption into four major professional championships – the U.S. Women’s Open, the Women’s British Open, the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship.
The match-play rounds of the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship will be broadcast on FS1 (Fox Sports 1). Coverage will air from 3-6 p.m. PDT on Friday, from 4-7 p.m. on Saturday and from 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Exclusive bonus coverage will be streamed live on usga.org on Sunday from 9:30-11:30 a.m.