HELLERTOWN, Pa. — One day after finishing just one shot short of a Pennsylvania State Golf Association Junior Girls’ title, Wilmington Country Club’s Jennifer Cleary bounced back Wednesday with a piece of her own hardware. A medal, to be exact.
Cleary, a Wilmington, Del. native, fired a 1-under-par round of 71 to earn medalist honors in a U.S. Girls’ Junior Qualifier administered by the Golf Association of Philadelphia at Silver Creek Country Club (par 72, 6,153 yards). The 15-year-old is now set to make her second national championship appearance, the first coming in the 2015 Girls’ Junior at Tulsa Country Club, Tulsa, Okla.
Joining the medalist in securing spots at Silver Creek were Ami Gianchandani (Watchung, N.J.), Bailey Davis (White Plains, Md.) and Christine Shao (Green Brook, N.J.). The first alternate position went to Kaitlyn Lees, Philadelphia Country Club’s recent Women’s Club Champion, while second alternate was earned by Hartefeld National Golf Club’s Esther Park.
This year’s championship proper will be held July 24-29 at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.
Cleary, the only player under par today, utilized three birdies on her way to the top.
She drilled a driver on No. 7 (par 4, 331 yards), hit a three-quarter gap wedge from 95 yards to the green then holed a 15-foot downhiller thanks to catching the perfect line with speed. She’d finish the front nine at even par and in good qualifying position.
A birdie on No. 11 (par 4, 348 yards) got her in red numbers. She lifted her tee shot over the trees, cutting the hole’s yardage down significantly, then again placed her trusty gap wedge to four feet for the 3. After giving one back on the next hole, the par-4, 349-yard 12th, Cleary got back to 1 under – where she’d ultimately finish – thanks to a birdie on No. 16 (par 3, 135 yards) after placing a 9-iron to 15 feet and jarring it.
Yesterday’s runner-up finish may have fueled the round worthy of today’s qualifying medal. It at least fueled Cleary’s golf swing.
“I had a rough nine to start the second day at [the PAGA Junior Girls’], unfortunately, and had a stretch where I had five bogeys in a row,” said Cleary, who carded rounds of 72-75 (+5) to finish one back of Hartefeld National’s Rylie Heflin, also in today’s field. “But the back nine of yesterday’s tournament really gave me confidence coming in to today, even though I fell short. I really felt good about my game coming here today.”
In her #USGirlsJunior debut, Cleary “didn’t play her best at all,” missing the match-play cut by five strokes. She’s out for revenge this time around.
“I was only 13 at the time. It was a really good experience,” she said. “This time around I’ve got a much better shot at making match play, and if I do, we’ll see how far I can eventually go.”
Two high school teammates will be looking to accomplish that same goal. Shao, a rising junior, and Gianchandani, a rising senior, both attend The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, N.J., where they compete on the school’s golf team together.
Gianchandani, 17, posted an even-par 72 to qualify for her third consecutive U.S. Girls’ Junior and Shao was the final qualifier with a 2-over-par 74.
She was 2-under through her first 10 holes and made her first birdie on No. 9 (par 5, 516 yards) after hitting a 5-wood from 210 yards to 12 feet. She recovered nicely from a poor drive. Her final two birdies on the par-4 10th and par-4 17th came as a result of two precise iron shots that left her back-to-back two-footers for birdie, opportunities she converted.
“I found that the greens on this course were really tough and really sloped,” Gianchandani said. “I knew a big factor would be hitting greens and making two-putts. Today, I was focused on hitting the center of the green and getting my first putt close enough so I didn’t have a lot of stressful second putts.”
Shao, 16, will make her first appearance in a USGA event after making the cut at Silver Creek. She used her birdies on No. 2 (par 4, 303 yards) and No. 17 (par 4, 370 yards) as well as key par saves to make the cut by a shot.
Shao said she looks forward to playing at the next level and competing along with her teammate Gianchandani, whom she considers a role model.
“It is so cool that Ami and I played well today to qualify and I am happy to know Ami,” Shao said. “We have a great high school golf team. She is a great captain on the golf team and she organizes the team really well. I hope to learn a lot from her and I want to be able to lead The Pingry School during my senior year like Ami will this year.”
Grabbing the final qualifying spot was Davis, a freshman-to-be at North Point High School (Waldorf, Md.), who parred her first 12 holes on the day en route to a 1-over 73.
The 14-year-old is not only excited about making the jump to high school, but also making the jump to the next level of playing competition. She’ll be making her USGA championship debut at Boone Valley.
“My goal today wasn’t to win, just to qualify,” she said. “I accomplished that today and it feels great.”
Golf Association of Philadelphia
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 153 Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
|Name, city, state||Score|
|Jennifer Cleary, Wilmington, Del.||71|
|Ami Gianchandani, Watchung, N.J.||72|
|Bailey Davis, White Plains, Md.||73|
|Christine Shao, Green Brook, N.J.||74|
|Alternates (in order)|
|*Kaitlyn Lees, Bryn Mawr, Pa.||75|
|Esther Park, Wilmington, Del.||75|
|Failed to qualify|
|Daphne Chao, People’s Republic of China||76|
|Katherine Muzi, Walnut, Calif.||77|
|Emma Shen, Tenafly, N.J.||77|
|Jacquelyn Cai, West Windsor, N.J.||78|
|Rylie Heflin, Avondale, Pa.||78|
|Samantha Yao, Berwyn, Pa.||78|
|Haley Yerxa, Canada||78|
|Anna Bowman, Westfield, N.J.||79|
|Samantha Fritzinger, Allentown, Pa.||79|
|Lauren Golden, Wyoming, Pa.||79|
|Katie Lee, Ringoes, N.J.||79|
|Alexandra Voight-Shelley, State College, Pa.||79|
|Julia McLaughlin, Princeton, N.J.||80|
|Hartley Zook, Flemington, N.J.||80|
|Katherine Lu, Plainsboro, N.J.||81|
|Skylar Sload, Ashburn, VA||81|
|Christina Carroll, Bear, Del.||82|
|Amanda Hart, Holmdel, N.J.||83|
|Eunice Kim, Edgewater, N.J.||84|
|Sophia Taverna, Holmdel, N.J.||84|
|Michaila Cheung, Toms River, N.J.||85|
|Hannah Lydic, Ocean View, Del.||85|
|Brianna Marmorstein, Havertown, Pa.||85|
|Amelia Shen, Tenafly, N.J.||85|
|Jenelle Valera, Piscataway, N.J.||86|
|Julianne Lee, York, Pa.||87|
|Kaia Wu, Princeton, N.J.||87|
|Rosey Li, Belle Mead, N.J.||89|
|Alexandra Willams, Erial, N.J.||90|
|Alexis Wyandt, Dallas, Pa.||90|
|Olivia Traynor, Villanova, Pa.||91|
|Cassidy Gavaghan, Ambler, Pa.||92|
|Megan Meng, Pennington, N.J.||92|
|Haley Quickel, Middletown, Del.||94|
|Michelle Cox, Allentown, Pa.||97|
|Xiao Han Yang, People’s Republic of China||97|
|Camille O’Halloran, Northfield, N.J.||99|
|Elizabeth Beek, Blue Bell, Pa.||WD|
|*-determined in playoff|