Kristen Gillman earned a come-from-behind 2-up victory over Brooke Mackenzie Henderson in the 36-hole championship match of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, being conducted at the 6,297-yard, par-70 Nassau Country Club.
Gillman, 16, of Austin, Texas, was 3 down through 26 holes to Henderson, 16, of Canada. But Gillman, a junior at Lake Travis High School, birdied five of the final 10 holes to complete the remarkable rally.
“I just keep fighting because I don’t want to leave here without the ultimate prize,” said Gillman, who has verbally committed to the University of Alabama for the fall of 2016. Gillman rallied from deficits in all six of her Women’s Amateur matches, including an inspired comeback from 4 down with six to play against Su-Hyun Oh in her 20-hole quarterfinal win on Friday.
“I wanted to get my name on the trophy, but that’s not necessarily success for me,” said Henderson, No. 2 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ and low amateur at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. “I played well, and I had a lot of fun this week.”
Gillman and Henderson are now exempt into the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, which will be conducted July 9-12 at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club. Henderson was already exempt into the championship by virtue of her tie for 10th at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in June. Gillman will be exempt into the next 10 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, with Henderson receiving a three-year exemption.
Henderson struck first, nearly reaching the par-5 fourth in two and making a 6-foot birdie.
She maintained the advantage to the par-4 ninth, where Gillman holed a 20-foot birdie putt to put pressure on her opponent. Henderson’s birdie attempt rolled just left of the hole to square the match.
Gillman grabbed her first 1-up lead at the par-4 12th after Henderson made a poor approach shot from the right rough and missed her par putt. Just short of the green in two, Gillman pitched 4 feet above the hole and converted the par putt.
But Henderson immediately atoned for her mistake. After Gillman three-putted for bogey at the par-4 13th, Henderson nailed a 3-foot comebacker to win the whole.
Henderson caught fire at the end of the morning round. She stuffed her wedge approach from 116 yards to within a foot at No. 17 for a conceded birdie, and Gillman’s pitch-and-run from the left rough just short of the green rolled 4 feet past the hole. Henderson closed out the round with another beautiful approach for a 7-foot birdie and a 2-up lead.
Following the lunch break, Henderson went on another hot streak, winning holes 25 and 26 to build a 3-up lead, her largest of the match.
Desperately in need of a pick-me-up, Gillman directed her thoughts to last week’s Junior PGA Championship, where she posted a runaway 11-stroke win.
“I kept hitting shots right into the pin,” said Gillman, who earned berths in the 2015 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and next month’s Junior Ryder Cup in Scotland by virtue of her Junior PGA win. “That’s what I did all last week, and so I thought I’d get back to what I was doing then.”
Those positive thoughts worked, as Gillman’s birdie-3 at the 27th marked the beginning of her comeback. After sticking her approach to 2 feet, Gillman watched Henderson’s birdie try run a foot past. She knocked in her short putt to pull within two.
Another birdie, this one from 15 feet at the par-4 30th, brought Gillman within one hole. She completed the comeback with a tough, uphill birdie putt from 8 feet at No. 32.
Gillman’s first afternoon lead came courtesy of her near-flawless approach shots. Gillman again stuffed her wedge approach at the par-5 33rd hole to 2 feet. Henderson’s pitch from 75 yards sailed long, and her birdie try veered left.
“She was throwing darts, and that definitely affected my game a little bit,” said Henderson. “I was trying to match it, and a couple holes I was able to, and others I just didn’t.”
Henderson had a prime opportunity to square the match at the par-3 34th hole. But after putting her tee shot within 10 feet, she two-putted for par.
Gillman had her own opportunity at the par-4 35th, this one to end the match. After another beautiful 9-iron approach to 3 feet, Gillman uncharacteristically sent her birdie putt 2 feet past the hole.
“I was definitely nervous,” said Gillman. “I think it showed a little bit on 17. … I had to just calm myself down and not think about it.”
Gillman’s sparkling ball-striking again gave her a tremendous advantage at the 36th hole. Another 9-iron approach was stuffed within 2 feet. And when Henderson failed to convert her 7-footer for birdie, Gillman calmly tapped in for the victory.
“Ball‑striking has always been a strength,” said Gillman. “I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, and then throughout the last year my ball‑striking has gone a lot better.”
The 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Result from the 36-hole championship final round of match play at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, being conducted at the 6,297-yard, par-70 Nassau Country Club:
Kristen Gillman, Austin, Texas (145) def. Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, Canada (142), 2 up