Golf

Castle Completes Improbable Run To U.S. Women’s Amateur Title

Jensen Castle completed one of the most improbable runs in U.S. Women’s Amateur history by defeating Yu-Chiang (Vivian) Hou, 2 and 1, in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match at Westchester Country Club.

Castle, a University of Kentucky junior who opened the week with a seven-over-par 79 in Monday’s first round of stroke play and then survived a 12-for-2 playoff just to reach match play, became the first No.63 seed to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy.

Castle is the third No.63 seed in USGA history to win a title since seeding began in the mid-1980s – Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links) and Steven Fox (2012 U.S. Amateur) are the others.

Already exempt into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open by virtue of reaching the final match, Castle assured herself a spot on the eight-woman 2021 USA Curtis Cup Team that will face Great Britain and Ireland August 26-28 at Conwy Golf Club in Wales. The remaining four players will be announced on Monday.

“Still hasn’t registered,” said Castle. “It feels like just another tournament, but then I step back and I’m like, this is a USGA event with so much history, and I just can’t imagine … all the exemptions I didn’t even realise [I had coming].”

Castle arrived at Westchester Country Club having not played any competitive golf since her U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in Dayton, Ohio, on July 8 because of a stress fracture in her ribs.

Her expectations were so low that she didn’t pack enough outfits for her winning run and also had to change her accommodations mid-week, going from a hotel to a friend’s residence in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut. She also used the same golf ball with a Kentucky logo for her last five matches.

Yet even with low expectations, Castle displayed a bulldog mentality that served her well, especially in the Saturday semi-finals when she rallied from 2 down with three to play to oust World No.2 and reigning NCAA champion Rachel Heck in 19 holes.

“Everyone gives me [a hard time] for my resting face,” said Castle. “I’m very aggressive and blunt so it doesn’t go together very well. But I promise I’m friendly. I’m very competitive on the golf course. That’s only over top of the ball.”

For Hou, a former No.1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking who came into the week at No.21, it was a disappointing defeat, especially when she took a 2-up lead after the first 18 holes. But the 20-year-old University of Arizona junior from Chinese Taipei was unable to match Castle, who came out blistering hot to open the afternoon round, winning three of the first four holes with birdies, and adding a fourth win with a par on the 26th hole to take a 2-up lead through 27.

Castle, No.248 in the latest WAGR, extended the lead to three holes with a winning par on the 29th hole.

But Hou, who hadn’t played a competitive event since the NCAA Championships in late May due to a partially torn labarum in her left hip, showed the determination that made her the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Freshman of the Year in 2020.

A brilliant up-and-down birdie from greenside rough on the par-5 30th set in motion two consecutive wins to trim the margin to 1 down. She rolled in a birdie on the par-4 31st, but then missed an eight-foot par putt on No.33 that gave Castle a 2-up lead with three to play.

Hou rebounded for the final time by hitting her tee shot on the 203-yard, par-3 34th to 10 feet below the flagstick for a winning birdie.

Castle then found a way to deliver the final knockout blow, holing a 9-foot birdie putt on the 35th hole to give the University of Kentucky its first U.S. Women’s Amateur champion.

Hou was hoping to become the third University of Arizona golfer to win a USGA title this summer, joining Jim Furyk (U.S. Senior Open) and Annika Sorenstam (U.S. Senior Women’s Open). Instead, she is the fourth Wildcat to fall one match short in this championship, joining Sorenstam (1992), Marisa Baena (1996) and her current coach, Laura (Myerscough) Ianello (2000), who flew in for the final match.

Hou was tearful in the moments after the match ended as she was consoled by Ianello, teammate Maya Benita, her caddie/sister, Yu-Sang, and another Chinese Taipei player (Han-Hsuan Yu) who failed to qualify for match play.

“This is golf, and I am really looking forward to what’s next for me,” said Hou, who has entered the first stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School with her sister. “Congratulations to the champion. She played really well.”

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