Hirano Eliminates Another 13-Year-Old
By David Shefter, USGA
Eugene, Ore. – Jennifer Hirano didn’t put anything in the spot reserved for nicknames on her USGA media bio sheet.
Perhaps “babysitter” or “chaperone” would be appropriate.
Especially since the 18-year-old from Pinole, Calif., has taken out a pair of hotshot 13-year-olds in the last 24 hours at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Eugene Country Club.
On Wednesday, Hirano eliminated reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Alexis Thompson, 1 up, and Thursday morning, she vanquished Pearl Jin of San Gabriel, Calif., 2 and 1.
“I didn’t even know she was 13 until you just told me that right now,” said the baby-faced Hirano. “They’re all really good, so you have to play your best.”
To the casual observer, one would have thought Jin was the incoming freshman at the University of Miami (Fla.) and Hirano was entering the eighth grade.
Their swings would suggest that as well. Jin has a powerful, modern move, while Hirano’s unorthodox technique features the club virtually at 12 o’clock before she makes the downswing. One spectator likened her backswing to the stance used by former Boston Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski.
Despite its quirkiness, Hirano, who learned the swing from her grandfather, makes it work. And it doesn’t hurt to have a hot putter, especially when she was routinely out-driven by Jin. Hirano missed the first three greens in regulation, yet still made pars, including an up-and-down bunker save at the par-4 third to take a 1-up lead after Jin skulled her bunker shot 30 yards beyond the green.
Jin squared the match at the fifth, but Hirano took the lead for good at the par-5 sixth when Jin missed a 9-foot par putt. Then at the par-3 seventh, Hirano watched her tee shot stop within 2 feet of the flagstick.
“Oh my god, she’s going to make an eagle,” exclaimed Debbie Gaughan, the wife of course superintendent Chris Gaughan, who told her the putt was for birdie. The Hirano family, which includes mom Sandra and 19-year-old sister Christina, is staying with the Gaughans this week.
The tap-in birdie gave Hirano a 2-up advantage.
Jin then missed a golden chance to regain some momentum at the par-5 eighth after reaching the 466-yard hole in two. But a three-putt par was only good for a halve. Hirano then added to her lead two holes later with a 10-foot birdie putt.
As she continued to come up with great shots or putts, a visibly nervous Sandra Hirano continued her running oral commentary.
After her daughter holed a 12-foot par putt at No. 11, Sandra replied, “She’s a crazy child.”
When she hit the flagstick with her fourth shot from a bunker at 13 to earn another halve, she screamed, “That’s the best. Woo-hoo!”
And at 14 when Jennifer drained a 20-foot birdie putt, she yelled: “That went in the hole? What is she, nuts?”
“I’m pretty used to it,” said Jennifer of her mom’s exuberance. “It helps the adrenaline, so it’s definitely a plus to have my mom out there.”
Meanwhile, her sister Christina stayed behind in the clubhouse, playing the piano like she has done the past three days. It’s proven to be good karma, although she did watch a little of Jennifer’s win Wednesday over Thompson.
Both will be teammates in the fall at Miami. Sandra said Miami offered both of her daughters full-ride scholarships, so despite the long cross-country flight from northern California the opportunity for them to be together was too good to pass up.
Jin, who told USGA Women’s Committee member Linda Lester on the ride back to the clubhouse after the match that she was up most of the night with a stomach virus, did make things interesting by holing a 20-foot birdie putt at 15 and getting up and down for birdie at the par-5 16th.
At the 17th hole Jin failed on her 12-foot birdie try and Hirano had little difficulty two-putting from 6 feet.
A year ago, Hirano qualified for her first Women’s Amateur, but missed the cut.
“I’ve gained more confidence,” said Hirano. “I’ve worked on my game a lot more.”
Hirano did not have much time to rest up with her round-of-16 match against Spain’s Carlota Ciganda set for Thursday afternoon.
At least for this encounter, she’ll be the same age as her opponent.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.