In a remarkable display of golf and mental fortitude, Christine Wang emerged triumphant as the winner of the 9th Women's Amateur Championship at Pauma Valley CC.
Entering the third and final round on Tuesday, Wang held a commanding six-stroke lead over her competitors after logging rounds of two-under 70 and five-under 67 on Monday. However, Wang’s USC teammate Brianna Navarossa refused to let her secure the championship without a fight.
Navarossa nearly mounted an immaculate comeback that began with a two-shot swing on the ninth hole. Wang’s approach shot almost found water behind the green. A par was out of the question, but she was able to minimize the damage with a bogey, while Navarrosa birdied the hole. As the fellow Trojans made the turn, Wang sat at eight-under, with Navarrosa on her heels at four-under.
“Bri is one of my best friends on the team,” Wang said. “We’re the same year so we came into school together during COVID so we got really close and we travel to all of our tournaments together. But we’re also very competitive with each other because we’re close. When we’re at school during the season, we have to play qualifying rounds against each other, so this almost felt like one of those.”
Each of them bogeyed No. 10. Wang lost another stroke on No. 11 with her third bogey in as many holes, while Navarrosa parred. All of the sudden, Wang’s lead had shrunk to just three strokes with seven holes to play.
Then Navarrosa got hot with her flat stick. She rolled consecutive birdies, the first on No. 13 from about 15 feet, then another from off the right fringe of No. 14, over 20 feet from the hole. With four holes to play and one stroke separating the top two competitors, the pressure was palpable.
“On 13 I started to sweat a little bit,” Wang said. “Bri made a really good putt from off the fringe and I started to realize ‘Okay this is real.’ I kind of realized what was happening, that I was in the lead at such a big tournament.”
Navarrosa's relentless pursuit nearly saw her catch up to Wang, making for a nail-biting finish to the championship.
The defining moment of the tournament came on the 16th hole. With her lead hanging by a thread, Wang rose to the occasion and delivered a stroke of brilliance on the 160-yard par-3. Her tee shot went right, leaving her well over 30 feet downhill for birdie.
There was no doubt the putt would reach the hole as Wang sent it across the green, and after spinning around the cup a couple times, the ball finally landed in the bottom of the hole for a remarkable birdie that served as a crucial turning point when Wang needed one the most.
“I was definitely not going to leave it short,” Wang said. “It was a pretty long putt. My left hip is pretty tight today from all the golf we played yesterday so I kind of got stuck and I held off [my approach shot] to the right. But that putt was downhill, I knew it was fast but I also knew that I at least had to give it a chance and it just so happened I had a good read on it and it just so happened that the hole was there so I think that was a little bit of luck but I was also very pleased.”
Navarrosa landed her tee shot on the short side of the fringe with a chip-in birdie opportunity, and nearly converted, but settled for par. Wang’s long birdie solidified her lead at two strokes with two to play. But again, Navarrosa wasn’t going to make it easy on her teammate.
On the challenging uphill par-5 17th, Navarrosa chipped onto the green and left herself just over ten feet for birdie and converted, while Wang tapped in for par. Navarrosa’s tee shot on the par-4 18th found the rough, and her approach landed on the fringe behind the hole, setting herself up for a long downhill birdie opportunity that she needed to convert to have any chance at a playoff.
Wang, nestled on the left side of the fairway, stuck her approach in front of the hole, leaving ten feet or so for birdie. Navarrosa gave her birdie putt a good run, but she ultimately put too much on it. Wang calmy two-putted for par to secure the one-stroke victory, leaving no doubt about her deserving claim to the SCGA Women's Amateur Championship title.
“It was a lot of fun. I played really well,” Wang said. “Today I still felt like I was playing well but I think I had a lot of putts that lipped out or were just short. Obviously that made it more interesting coming down the stretch. Especially with my teammate Bri [Navarrosa] playing. She’s a great putter.”
Wang's triumph serves as a testament to her skill, mental fortitude and ability to rise to the occasion when it mattered most. With the win, she becomes the third USC golfer to capture the Women’s Amateur Championship.
“I think the biggest takeaway for me is how I’ve been really working hard on my mental game,” Wang said. “I know my physical game, it’s there sometimes, it’s not there sometimes. My mental game is something I can always control, so that’s been something I’ve been working really hard at. Today when not all the putts were falling and not all the shots were bouncing in the right direction, having that work that I put in to try and keep calm and take one shot at a time has really paid off and help me stay in my groove and stay focused…I’m super proud of myself.”