Best of the Best

Top 8-ranked female junior golfers in the world set to tee it up in U.S. Girls’ Junior that Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Golf Club will host; Logan Hale of Erie the lone Coloradan in the field

By Gary Baines – 7/14/2023

For the first USGA championship held at a military facility, the folks at the Air Force Academy are planning a flyover by MC-130 aircraft and a jump onto the driving range by the Air Force’s Wings of Blue paratroopers to entertain contestants and other observers during the opening ceremonies on Saturday.

It seems only appropriate for an event that’s at a sky-high level when it comes to the stature of its field.

The 74th U.S. Girls’ Junior will formally begin on Monday with the first of two rounds of stroke play, after which the top 64 performers at Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course will advance to match play, which starts on Wednesday. From there, the field gets winnowed down to two for the July 22 36-hole title match at the Robert Trent Jones Sr., layout.

The U.S. Girls’ Junior is known as arguably the top girls golf tournament in the world, and in terms of strength of field, it lives up to that hype:

— The top eight female junior players in the world — according to the Junior Golf Scoreboard rankings — are among the 156 golfers set to tee it up at Eisenhower: 

1. Nika Ito of Japan 

2. Gianna Clemente of Estero, Fla.

3. Kiara Romero of San Jose (committed to the University of Oregon) 

4. Katie Li of Basking Ridge, N.J. (Duke) 

5. Alice Ziyi Zhao of China and Irvine, Calif. 

6. Anna Davis of Spring Valley, Calif. (Auburn)

7. Leigh Chien of Irvine, Calif.

8. Bailey Shoemaker of Dade City, Fla. (USC) 

— Yana Wilson of Henderson, Nev., who won last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, is back to defend as a 16-year-old. She played last week in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. Last month at the LPGA Tour’s Mizuho Americas Open, Wilson won the AJGA competition that was held in conjunction with the LPGA stop. On the weekend at that event, the juniors were paired with tour pros.

It should be noted that Clemente, who lost to Wilson in last year’s final, will make another bid for the title, this time at age 15.

— Speaking of the U.S. Women’s Open, the winner of the U.S. Girls’ Junior next week will earn a berth in the 2024 USWO, considered the most prestigious event in women’s golf. Also, the champ gets spots in the 2023 and ’24 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, and the 2024 Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

— Also in the field at Eisenhower will be Davis, who won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at age 16 in 2022. Davis was recently named to the U.S. squad that will compete in the women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Abu Dhabi in late October.

Davis, who made five cuts in seven LPGA Tour events last year, was one of eight U.S. Girls’ Junior competitors who teed it up at last week’s U.S. Women’s Open. She stands fourth in the current women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings.

Overall, there will be 13 countries and 33 states represented by the U.S. Girls’ Junior competitors, with 25 coming from California alone.

As for Coloradans, the only one in the U.S. Girls’ field — barring an alternate getting in — is Logan Hale of Erie, a future University of Denver golfer who earned medalist honors in qualifying last month at the Country Club of Colorado in Colorado Springs, where her family once held a membership.

Two golfers from Thailand joined Hale in qualifying in Colorado: 2023 CGA Women’s Match Play champion Pimpisa Rubrong and Tarapath Panya.

The ninth hole at Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course.

Eisenhower’s Blue Course will be set up at 6,778 yards (par-72), making it the longest layout in U.S. Girls’ Junior history. But with the course also sitting at 6,788 feet of elevation, the yardage will effectively be significantly shorter compared to sea level.

“The challenge on this course comes around the greens,” Steve Wallace, Eisenhower GC’s PGA general manager, said last month. “If you miss it on the wrong spot on the green, you can leave yourself with a treacherous downhill putt. Getting up and down around the greens is also difficult.

“It’ll be fair. Tee to green for these kids is nothing, but if you miss it in the wrong spot, you take par out of play sometimes. (In some cases if the pin is up front), you’re better off being 5 feet short of the green and chipping up than being 6 feet past the flag because you’re going to make 3 or you’re going to make 5.

“And what I really like about this golf course is no houses (on or near the layout). That’s what’s really special about it to me.”

After the match-play round of 64 is held on Wednesday, the rounds of 32 and 16 are set for Thursday, and the quarterfinals and the semifinals for Friday, July 21.

Besides the flyover and paratrooper jumps during the opening ceremonies of the championship, adding more of an Air Force flavor to the event will be uniformed cadets on the first and 10th tees early in the championship handing each player a commemorative coin with the Air Force logo on one side and that of the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship on the other.

Admission for the 2023 U.S. Girls’ Junior is free and no tickets are required. Spectators are encouraged to attend.

Peacock and the Golf Channel will televise the U.S. Girls’ Junior on the following schedule (MT):

Friday, July 21 — Semifinals 3-5 p.m. (Peacock); 6-8 p.m., tape delay (Golf Channel)

Saturday, July 22 — Championship match, 3-5 p.m. (Peacock); 6-8 p.m., tape delay (Golf Channel)

This will be the fourth U.S. Girls’ Junior conducted in Colorado, but the first since Greeley Country Club hosted the championship in 1982.

For Monday and Tuesday tee times and pairings, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates