Philadelphia, United States: Seong Eun-jeong can officially introduce Robert Cox to Glenna Collett Vare.
For the first time, the long-standing United States Golf Association (USGA) trophies bearing the names of these two individuals will simultaneously be in the possession of one golfer.
Sixteen-year-old Korean Seong dramatically holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole to outduel Virginia Elena Carta, one-up in the 36-hole championship match to win the 116th US Women’s Amateur Championship at the 6,297-yard, par-71 Rolling Green Golf Club.
Seong is the first to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy (Women’s Amateur) and Glenna Collett Vare Trophy (US Girls’ Junior) in the same season and the third female to win multiple USGA championships in the same year, joining Pearl Sinn (1988 US Women’s Amateur Public Links and US Women’s Amateur) and Jennifer Song (2009 WAPL and Women’s Amateur).
On July 23, Seong became the first player in 45 years to successfully defend her US Girls’ Junior title with a three-and-two win over Andrea Lee at The Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.
Seong is the youngest player in history to have appeared in four USGA championship finals, with her lone loss coming in 2014 to Fumie (Alice) Jo in the final contested WAPL.
Entering Sunday, three players had won the US Girls’ Junior and reached the Women’s Amateur final in the same year, but each had come up short.
“I can’t believe today,” said Seong. “Today is a different feeling because I made history. That’s why I feel so amazing.”
The 2016 US Women’s Amateur Championship, conducted by the USGA, 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, including a 36-hole final.
Carta, who won the NCAA Division I individual title in May by a record eight strokes, was bidding to become just the second golfer to claim the NCAA and Women’s Amateur titles in the same year, joining Vicki Goetze (1992).
Late in the afternoon round of the final, it appeared that Carta might not be able to finish the match. On the par-five 25th green, she began to feel dizzy, but the issue didn’t manifest itself until the 30th hole. Roberto Zappa, her caddie, asked his player about seeking medical help, but Carta kept playing until she won the 31st hole with a par to trim Seong’s lead to one-up.
At that point, medical personnel took Carta under a nearby tree, asking several questions about what she had eaten or drank the past few days. All day, Carta had consumed water and her customary caffeinated soft drink at the turn, as well as bananas, protein bars and nuts.
Carta had not experienced such an occurrence since she was ‘10 or 11’ when she passed out on the last hole of a junior tournament in Italy, yet still managed to finish the competition. But the thought of not being able to complete the match crossed her mind as her heart rate ‘went crazy insane’ and she struggled to breathe properly.
The Rules of Golf permit one break for a medical situation and referee Stasia Collins notified both competitors of the situation. Fifteen minutes later, Carta returned to the tee on the par-three 32nd hole, looking a little peaked.
She didn’t take a practice swing before hitting her tee shot into the right greenside bunker. Seong also found a bunker, but managed to get up and down for par to regain her two-up lead.
“I was not feeling good at all,” said Carta. “I was shaking, and that was not a good feeling. But at the same time, because of my personality, I knew if I wanted, I could have arrived until the end, like maybe losing three-and-two, but still giving my best every single shot.”
Carta, who halved holes 15 and 16, did not give up or give in. Showing grit and determination, Carta rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-five 35th hole. When Seong power-lipped her 10-footer to win the match, the two marched to the 36th hole, which played as a 433-yard par-four for the afternoon round. The hole played as a par-five, measuring 480 yards during the morning 18, and for most of the championship.
Hitting first from the fairway, Carta’s approach landed 25 feet above and to the right of the flagstick, while Seong’s second barely cleared the false front. Carta, however, would never strike another shot. Nervous and aware of her possible place in history, Seong coolly converted her 40-foot birdie attempt, setting off roaring applause from the approximately 500 spectators around the green and a dousing of water from four US Women’s Amateur competitors: quarter-finalist Hannah Green, of Australia; compatriot Karis Davidson; semi-finalist Yuka Saso, of the Philippines; and good friend Binny Lee.
“Yeah, [my hands were] shaking,” said Seong of her mindset on the final green. “I’m one-up, and if I lose this hole, I can go to a play-off. I was just thinking: ‘Please two-putt, please two-putt’. But I made it. I was surprised.”
During the morning 18, Carta took a two-up lead before Seong made back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15 to square the match. She grabbed the lead with another birdie on the 17th before pushing her drive on 18 into the trees. Seong wound up three-putting for bogey and then conceded Carta’s short birdie putt to go into the lunch break all square.
Seong came out of the break and birdied the 19th hole for a one-up lead. Carta squared the match on the 24th hole, but the match turned on the par-five 25th when Carta got too frisky with her eagle putt, and the ball trickled off the green. Instead of winning or at least halving the hole, Carta eventually conceded Seong’s short birdie putt to go one-down.
Although Carta trailed the rest of the match, she had a chance to square things on the par-three 28th, but three-putted for bogey, missing a six-footer for par to win the hole.
Both the winner and runner-up are exempt into the 2017 US Women’s Open with Seong receiving a 10-year US Women’s Amateur exemption and Carta a three-year exemption. Seong also is likely to be invited to three other professional women’s Major championships – the 2016 Evian Championship and the 2017 ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open.