The run is over.
Angela Zhang of Bellevue, Wash. and Alice Zhao of Irvine, Calif. lost in this morning’s semifinal match to Tiffany Le and Kate Villegas, and the improbable run of the two 14-year-olds in the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, held this week at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., has come to a close.
Zhang and Zhao provided fireworks in their earlier matches, winning a thrilling Round of 32 match in 21 holes, a Round of 16 match by a 3 and 2 margin, and hanging on to win their quarterfinal match 1-up against Ami Gianchandani and Kaitlyn Lee.
They had started the semifinal match strong, racing to a 3-up lead after four holes, but then the putts stopped falling. Despite opportunities on holes seven and eight, neither Zhang nor Zhao could convert their birdie attempts, and when Le birdied the par-5 10th the match was tied.
Zhang was able to drop a 12-foot birdie on the par-3 14th to go 1-up, but Le and Villegas then won holes 15 and 16 to go 1-up, and the lead held when Zhao’s downhill 15-foot birdie attempt on 18 slid by the hole. Le and Villegas won, 2-up.
“I’m proud of the way we played this week,” Zhang said after the match. “We kept going, we didn’t give up. Anything can happen in match play, and this week proved it.”
They had come into the championship with already impressive credentials.
Last summer, Zhang became the youngest player, at age 13, to win the Washington Women’s Amateur. She also won the 2022 WJGA State Championship, and was named the WJGA Player of the Year, earning more points than any player in WJGA history. She was also named the 2022 WA Golf Junior Girls’ Player of the Year.
Last month, Zhang set the women’s course record at The Home Course, firing a 7-under 65 in the first round of the Washington Women’s Champion of Champions, on her way to winning that championship by 11 strokes. Last week, Zhang won the second hole of a playoff to qualify for the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open. In 2019, Zhang won the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals in the Girls’ ages 7-9 division. Back in September, Zhang and Zhao were medalists in qualifying for this championship, with that qualifier held at The Home Course.
Zhao was co-medalist at the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur, held at Chambers Bay.
And then they went out and shot a combined 11-under over the two days of stroke-play qualifying to be co-medalists of this national championship.
Zhang and Zhao were among this national championship’s youngest competitors, with Zhang just turning 14 on May 5.
The two had met a couple years ago at a junior tournament in California. “We saw each other at some other tournaments, and we became friends,” Zhang says.
Each of them had their father’s caddying for them all this week at The Home Course, and had their mothers in the gallery following every hole.
Angela and Alice are 14, you see. They are just finishing the eighth grade.
And now the long week is over, and the grind of championship golf over a five-day stretch is done. Zhang and Zhao will be embraced by their parents, they will talk about their day, they will go home, and tomorrow morning will be a new day. And they will laugh, and chat with their friends, and go to school, and play more golf.
And they will always carry with them what they accomplished this week, in this national championship. Something that cannot be taken away from them.
Because the future is spread out before them. Because they are just 14. Because they play a beautiful game beautifully.
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Eight sides (or teams) from the Pacific Northwest started in the field, and four advanced into match play. The other Northwest player to make it to the semifinals in match play was Anna Huang of Vancouver, B.C. But Huang and her partner Leigh Chien lost in the semifinals to Gianna Clemente and Avery Zweig, 4 and 3.
At age 14, Huang was one of the youngest competitors in this year’s field. Her notable results include a T4 finish at the Canadian Junior, a T22 finish at the Canadian Women’s Amateur, a victory at the Toyota Tour Cup and a T3 finish a the NextGen Selection Camp. She was selected to play on Team Canada in the 2022 World Junior Girls’ Championship.
This was the fourth USGA national championship conducted at The Home Course, which is cooperatively owned and operated by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and Washington Golf. Set up at 6,487 yards, The Home Course was played as the longest course in the history of this national championship.