CHEVY CHASE, Md. — As the women’s junior golf world descends on Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, the global nature of the game is on full display. Players and their families came from 33 of 50 states to play in the US Girls’ Junior Championship, and 25 international competitors represent 12 different countries. But the Maryland natives in the field have certainly made their presence felt.
Bailey Davis, of White Plains, sits in solo third place after shooting consecutive rounds of even-par 70 at the challenging Columbia layout. Frederick’s Faith Choi, meanwhile, posted scores of 71 and 77 to finish the stroke-play portion of the event tied for 35th. The top 64 players in the field of 156 after two rounds advanced to a match-play bracket, which concludes Saturday, July 18.
Players are eligible for the tournament as long as they don’t turn 19 before the end of this week, meaning it’s mostly high school grads and rising seniors in the mix. Davis and Choi are two of just three in-state contestants in the field — the third, Derwood’s Shoshana Zuck, tied for 155th — but have made the most of their chance in front of a home crowd.
“A lot of people at Columbia have come up to me and said, ‘You’re representing Maryland so well, we’re so proud of you, we’re so happy you’re here,'” Davis said after her second round. “And it’s also nice to stay at home every night, so I’m beyond blessed to be playing in Maryland.”
Choi and Davis have known each other for nearly a decade, as both players started playing in golf tournaments at a young age. Choi said the two became close friends without ever introducing themselves; their games did the talking when the kids were too timid. Now, they’re both representing Maryland on a national stage.
“We never, like, officially met, but we were always around each other. I think since we were younger, we were always too shy to come up to each other,” Choi said. “We’d always be in first and second for all the tournaments we played in, so it was a lot of fun back then, and she’s one of my best friends now, so it’s a lot of fun to still be playing with her.”
Davis lives just over an hour from the course, while Choi’s commute is closer to 35 minutes. Both players had early rounds Monday, July 12 — Choi hit the first shot off hole No. 1 at 7:15 a.m., while Davis led off on No. 11 at 7:30 — which meant wake-up calls before 4:30 a.m., the earliest either player said they’d ever woken up for golf. But both fired solid opening rounds, with Davis shooting even-par 70 and Choi checking in with 71.
In the afternoon heat Tuesday, July 13, Davis kept the momentum going. She birdied two of her first five holes to reach 1-under, then four-putted the par-3 eighth for double bogey, then bogeyed Nos. 9 and 10 to fall to 3-over. The Tennessee signee responded with birdies on 11, 13 and 17 to enter the clubhouse at even par and as one of the tournament favorites.
“I’ve made some very clutch putts that kept me in it, that kept my confidence going,” Davis said. “My tee shots have been really good, they’ve put me in a really solid position. Today was very up and down, my energy level was very low at one point, but I made a birdie [at No. 11] and I was able to keep it up after that.”
Choi, who was 2-under after 11 holes Monday morning, has slipped back to the middle of the pack, but the future Ohio State Buckeye still made it safely into match play.
Rose Zhang, the No. 1 amateur in the world and reigning US Women’s Amateur champion, took medalist honors after following a first-round 69 with a course-record, tournament-record 62. She finished stroke play at 9-under, while Cindy Kou, a USC signee from China, posted rounds of 66 and 68 to check in at 6-under. The separation was clear, with only this duo in red figures and Davis alone in third at even par.
Next week, Zhang will play in a professional major at the Evian Championship in France, and the rest of her summer includes another major and a host of top amateur events. It would be understandable for the Stanford signee to skip this event, as some top juniors did, but Zhang said she wanted one last chance to compete at the junior level, and it helps that this course is just 15 minutes from Woodmont Country Club, where she captured the Women’s Amateur last summer.
“I love USGA events. They definitely treat us so well and every single thing they do, when it comes to food and beverage and when it comes to playing golf, it’s very prestigious,” Zhang said. “This is my last US Girls, so I just really want to not take anything for granted and stay shot after shot. But I love the US Junior. It’s, like, honestly my thing.”
The golf course at Columbia Country Club opened in 1911 and still provides a stern test, as the 36-hole cut came at 11-over. It hosted the men’s 1921 US Open, but its relatively short, quirky layout now make it a better fit for events like this. Even with the par-70 layout measuring just 6,124 yards on the scorecard, the slippery and undulating greens present more than enough challenges.
Match play starts Wednesday, July 14, with the Round of 64, and two rounds will take place each of the following two days before a 36-hole finale Saturday, July 18. It’s a different kind of golf — players can be more aggressive and only have to beat one opponent in a given round. And as crowds gradually grow throughout the week, that could mean a bigger advantage to the local players.
Two rounds are in the books, but as many as seven rounds of golf remain until a champion is crowned. Zhang looks like a clear favorite, but Davis and Choi and everyone else in the field believe they have a chance. (Davis and Choi could actually play each other in the Round of 32.) In the end, of course, the golf shots will tell the story.
“I think I really still have to just focus on playing my game,” Davis said. “Obviously I’m playing against someone directly, but I think as long as I stick to my game plan, I’ll do well.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the USGA