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Baba 2nd Japanese golfer to win U.S. Women’s Amateur

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Saki Baba holds the trophy after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur golf tournament in University Place, Wash., on Sunday.

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Saki Baba won the U.S. Women’s Amateur on Sunday, dominating Canada’s Monet Chun in the 36-hole match-play final to become just the second golfer from Japan to win the title.

Baba, a 17-year-old from Tokyo, had nine holes to spare when she clinched the title by winning the 27th hole to go 11 up at Chambers Bay golf course in University Place, south of Seattle.

In 1985, Michiko Hattori was 16 when she won the tournament.

“I’m so happy,” Baba said.“ I tried to enjoy myself during the round and I could play my brand of golf.”

One of Baba’s main weapons is her driving distance, which makes use of her height of 1.75 meters and gets her closer to the green than her opponents. She averages 270 yards on her driver, which would place her around the top 15 among LPGA golfers if she turned professional.

In match play, the golfer with the lower score on a hole wins that hole, regardless of the actual number of strokes.

The final started at 9:30 a.m. and Baba hit steady shots and putts while her 21-year-old opponent made mistakes. In the first half through 18 holes, Baba was at 7 up, winning eight holes. Chun took only the par-4 sixth hole with a birdie when Baba double bogeyed after hitting the ball into the deep rough.

The second half started at 4 p.m. with another go-around at the 18-hole course. Chun started off better to win the 20th and 21st holes to make it 5 up to Baba, but the Japanese teen then won the next six holes to cruise to victory.

Baba sank a birdie on the par-5 22nd to put pressure on Chun, who then failed to convert her birdie putt.

“I regained the momentum,” Baba said.

After she chipped in for another birdie on the par-4 23rd to return to 7 up, she said, “I felt like I did it.”

As the finalists approached the 27th hole, Baba was at 10 up, having won 13 holes to Chun’s three, with the same score on 10 holes. While Chun made par on the par-3 27th, Baba sank her birdie putt to seal the victory. Baba brought her hands to her face in joy.

Baba, a junior at Nihon Wellness High School, has competed well against top pro golfers, helping her develop quickly. She was the top amateur at the Bridgestone Ladies Open in Chiba Prefecture in May, then made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C., in June. Baba ended up in a tie for 49th in that major tournament.

Baba and Chun, as the finalists in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, gain an exemption to the U.S. Women’s Open next year at Pebble Beach.

After holding the winner’s trophy for the press to take photographs, a smiling Baba said, “It was so heavy I almost dropped it.”