FORT WAYNE – No one has won back-to-back titles at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship since Hollis Stacy in 1970 and 1971.
Minjee Lee of Australia was on track for the feat, until Casie Cathrea got in her way Thursday afternoon at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
The native of Livermore, Calif., defeated the defending champion in the round of 16 on the 19th hole, earning herself a match this morning against Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar, Calif.
“Minjee is an awesome player, and I knew she could birdie about anywhere today,” said Cathrea, 17, who will play in college for Oklahoma State. “It’s very satisfying because now I feel like I’m ready to play in the morning, and I’m going to come out and play my best.”
The victory may have been satisfying, but it was also nerve-wracking for the normally unflappable Cathrea.
After squaring the match on the par-4 16th, she botched a chip on No. 17, bogeyed and fell behind. On No. 18, she toyed with the bunkers before bogeying to extend the match because Lee doubled.
“I left my first putt 4 feet long and my hands started to shake,” Cathrea said. “I was like, ‘Calm down.’ And my caddy was like, ‘It’s just a 4-foot putt.’ Then I was able to relax because I got another hole.”
On the par-4 1st hole, she won with a par, even though her approach shot was off target.
“I was pleased with the way I was playing (early in the round),” said Cathrea, who came into match play with the 46th seed among 64 players, while Lee had the third seed. “I wish I would have kept it consistent and on the same level. But she’s an awesome player. She had three straight birdies (on Nos. 6, 7 and 8) and I was like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”
Cathrea’s knowledge of Sycamore Hills, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course, may be better than anyone else in the field; she played there three years in a row in the Junior PGA Championship.
The highest remaining seed at the Girls’ Junior is No. 4 Yueer Feng of Orlando, Fla., who defeated 45th-seeded Hannah Green of Australia 5 and 4 in the round of 16.
“The greens are rolling really nice and I like that. It’s very challenging. When you’re putting really good, it’s nice, and when you’re not, it’s difficult,” said Feng, 17.
“It’s match play and there’s a lot of luck involved. When I was in the stroke play portion, I was just thinking I want to make it into match play, but now I just want to play my best, play smart and whatever happens, happens.”
Bailey Tardy of Norcross, Ga., who was the top seed in match play, lost in the morning to Sabrina Bonanno of Norridge, Ill., during the round of 32. Bonanno, a three-time all-state player in Illinois who was seeded 32nd, won the match 4 and 3.
Bonanno had been up two holes after No. 6 but coughed it up and didn’t regain her lead until birdying the par-5 12th while Tardy triple-bogeyed.
“(After she bogeyed No. 10), she started losing her strokes and I started gaining on her,” said Bonanno, who won four straight holes to win on the 15th green. “Somehow I came through and started hitting shot after shot, sticking it. It just worked out.”
In the afternoon, Bonanno defeated Mexico’s Maria Fassi 5 and 4. Bonanno never trailed in the match and won holes 5, 6, 7 and 8 to go up four and take control.
Meghan Khang of Rockland, Mass., who at age 15 is in her fifth Girls’ Junior, had perhaps the most interesting day. The 40th seed defeated eighth-seed Hannah O’Sullivan of Paradise Valley, Ariz., in the round of 32 but it took 20 holes to do so. O’Sullivan was up before Khang parred the par-4 16th. Khang won with a birdie on No. 2, a par-5.
In the round of 16, Khang beat No. 24 Maddie Szeryk of Allen, Texas, 3 and 2.