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By RAY McCARTHY
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – Karen Chung has a boxing glove for her driver headcover, but the short, skinny aw-shucks 13-year-old from Livingston, N.J., wouldn’t scare Dorothy’s cowardly lion in an unlit haunted house.
On Saturday, Chung (pictured, right) was the toughest player in the field at the 60th U.S. Girls’ Junior.
Chung conquered a slew of self-destructive demons en route to a 26-hole marathon win over Kristina Wong, breaking the record for longest match in U.S. Girls’ history in the process.
Chung was dormie through 16 holes in her match with Wong, but a three-putt from 20 feet on 17, and a pressure-induced pull out of bounds on 18 extended the match and had Chung in a whirlwind.
“It was really hard,” she said of the collapse. “I was thinking about every bad shot that I hit, but I tried telling myself ‘We’re all square, it’s not over.’ ”
When Wong missed a 4-footer for par on the 26th hole, Chung had cemented her place in U.S. Girls’ record books and in Sunday’s 36-hole final against fellow 13-year-old Alexis Thompson.
“I feel like I’m in my dream or something,” Chung said. “This is surreal.”
Chung, just three months removed from her 13th birthday, is playing in her first match-play tournament. Two previous U.S. Girls’ qualifying attempts were unsuccessful.
“I didn’t expect anything like this,” she said. “I didn’t even think I’d come this far.”
Looking on throughout Chung’s ordeal was her cousin, Stephanie Kim, who was knocked off by Thompson earlier in the day in quarterfinal action.
Despite being 2 down early in the match, Thompson hit her stride with a conceded eagle on No. 10 and took over the match. Thompson squared the match on No. 11, and birdied Nos. 15-17 to win, 3 and 1.
With a family member still in the finals, the sting of Kim’s loss is eased.
“I’m living vicariously though her,” Kim said of her cousin. “I want her to win.”
Kim and her family were frantic following the dramatic, back-and-forth duel between Chung and Wong.
“Usually when you’re in the ropes, you have control… but you can’t do anything,” she said. “Now I know what it’s like for my parents.”
Wong advanced to the semis via a dominant 2-and-1 win over stroke-play medalist Lisa McCloskey, while Chung made a clutch up-and-down on the 18th hole in her quarterfinal match with Courtney Gunter to win, 1 up. Gunter failed to make par to extend the match.
Jenny Shin, 2006 U.S. Girls’ champion, faced Lindy Duncan in a rematch of their quarterfinal match from ‘06. Much like their previous bout, Duncan pushed the envelope and had Shin 2 down early, but five birdies in a seven-hole stretch gave Shin momentum to the end.
Shin, however, could not maintain her energy in the semis against Thompson. Thompson led the match from the second hole on, and her 2-and-1 win over Shin was more convincing than the score indicated.
“My ball-striking is pretty good right now,” Thompson said. “I’d say it’s probably at it’s best so far (this year).”
Shin, who did not advance past stroke-play qualifying last year, declined an interview afterward.
All eyes are now on Chung and Thompson, who will combine for the youngest final in U.S. Girls’ history.
The similarities end at their ages.
Thompson, perhaps the most recognizable name in girls’ junior golf, has competed in the U.S. Women’s Open twice and became the youngest in history to do so last year.
With a devastating combination of length off the tee and accuracy from the fairway, Thompson has made short and easy work of her opponents throughout the week.
“This is a really big golf tournament for my summer, and I’m really excited playing in the finals tomorrow,” she said.
Competing on a big stage is familiar territory for Thompson.
“I’ll have a good time sleeping tonight,” she said. “I’m going to go to bed really early.”
Chung has been routinely outdriven in every match she has played this week, while Thompson has outdriven all of her opponents.
“She’s really short off the tee,” Kim said of her cousin. “But she can stick her woods like some people stick their irons. Around the greens, she’s amazing.”
After taking up the game just three years ago, Chung finds herself competing for the biggest title of her young career. Her biggest win to date came at the AJGA’s Junior All-Star at Jacksonville in 2007.
The relative unknown said she will draw from her 26-hole grind in the semis and use it as motivation for tomorrow’s final.
“I think it will help because it kept me focused for all the holes I played today, and I think that’s how it will be tomorrow,” she said.
And how did Chung feel after winning the longest match since Andrea Marchand defeated Hilary Rack in 25 holes in the first round of the 1980 U.S. Girls’?
“I wanted to go back to the hotel.”
• • •
Ray McCarthy is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach him e-mail email@example.com.
Scores with relation to par from the semifinals of match-play at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur, played July 26 at thepar-71 Hartford GC in West Hartford, Conn.:
Karen Chung def. Kristina Wong 26 holes Alexis Thompson def. Jenny Shin 2 and 1
Lisa McCloskey def. Kristina Wong 2 and 1 Karen Chung def. Courtney Gunter 1 up Alexis Thompson def. Stephanie Kim 3 and 1 Jenny Shin def. Lindy Duncan 1 up
ROUND OF 16
Lisa McCloskey def. Marina Alex 22 holes Kristina Wong def. Mary Michael Maggio 1 up Karen Chung def. Stacey Kim 19 holes Courtney Gunter def. Mariah Stackhouse 3 and 2 Stephanie Kim def. Kristen Park 2 and 1 Alexis Thompson def. Victoria Tanco 4 and 3 Lindy Duncan def. Madison Pressel 3 and 1 Jenny Shin def. Sarah Brown 3 and 1
ROUND OF 32
Lisa McCloskey def. Dorothy Schwartz 5 and 4 Marina Alex def. Kimberly Kim 2 and 1 Kristina Wong def. Kyle Roig 2 and 1 Mary Michael Maggio def. Amy Anderson 2 and 1 Karen Chung def. Jennifer Kirby 2 and 1 Stacey Kim def. Pearl Jin 20 holes Mariah Stackhouse def. Chelsey Cothran 2 and 1 Courtney Gunter def. Danielle Kang 20 holes Stephanie Kim def. Casey Grice 4 and 3 Kristen Park def. Emilie Burger 1 up Alexis Thompson def. Christine Cho 5 and 3 Victoria Tanco def. Emma Talley 3 and 2 Madison Pressel def. Sarah Beth Davis 1 up Lindy Duncan def. Sue Kim 3 and 2 Jenny Shin def. Cyna Marie Rodriguez 2 up Sarah Brown def. Julie Yang 4 and 2
ROUND OF 64
Lisa McCloskey def. Christine Song 5 and 3 Dorothy Schwartz def. Erica Popson 1 up Kimberly Kim def. Stacy Kim 5 and 4 Marina Alex def. Katie Sylvan 5 and 4 Kristina Wong def. Danielle Frasier 3 and 2 Kyle Roig def. Portland Rosen 4 and 2 Amy Anderson def. Daniela Lendl 3 and 2 Mary Michael Maggio def. Jessica Wallace 1 up Jennifer Kirby def. Katrina Hegge 19 holes Karen Chung def. Ginger Howard 3 and 1 Pearl Jin def. Amanda Steinhagen 1 up Stacey Kim def. Susana Benavides 5 and 4 Chelsey Cothran def. Ani Gulugian 5 and 4 Mariah Stackhouse def. Alison Lee 3 and 2 Courtney Gunter def. Betsie Johnson 5 and 3 Danielle Kang def. Samantha Swinehart 7 and 5 Stephanie Kim def. Taylor Schmidt 4 and 3 Casey Grice def. Nicole Agnello 4 and 3 Kristen Park def. Veronica Valerio 19 holes Emilie Burger def. Austin Ernst 2 and 1 Alexis Thompson def. Luz Alejandra Cangrejo 2 and 1 Christine Cho def. Caroline Powers 1 up Emma Talley def. Kelly Shon 1 up Victoria Tanco def. Marisa Kamelgarn 3 and 2 Madison Pressel def. Anna Jang 1 up Sarah Beth Davis def. Katia Joo 4 and 3 Lindy Duncan def. Erynne Lee 4 and 2 Sue Kim def. Courtney Ellenbogen 3 and 2 Jenny Shin def. Esther Lee 20 holes Cyna Marie Rodriguez def. Tiffany Lua 2 and 1 Sarah Brown def. Christine Shimel 1 up Julie Yang def. Rachel Rohanna 22 holes
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