Johnson Walking Right Through Into U.S. Women's Amateur Semis
By Stuart Hall
St. Louis — In hindsight, Jennifer Johnson had a pretty casual Friday.
The easy-going 18-year-old southern Californian won three successive holes on the outward nine at Old Warson Country Club and breezed to a 5-and-4 quarterfinal victory Friday morning over Candace Schepperle at the 109th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
On the surface, Johnson has had a leisurely and unspoiled walk around the 56-year-old Robert Trent Jones Sr. design. She has played 58 of a possible 72 holes with no match going further than the 16th. She also has never trailed against any of her four match-play opponents and led 52 of those 58 holes.
Johnson says it has been quite the opposite.
“It's been nice getting up early and having the lead,” said the incoming Arizona State University freshman. “But I don't think this week's been too easy. It's been pretty mentally exhausting. Yesterday I was really tired last night after 32 holes. I think I've just got to get good rest tonight and I think I'll be ready for tomorrow.”
Awaiting Johnson on the first tee Saturday morning will be 14-year-old Alexis Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla., a teammate of Johnson’s on Team USA at last September’s Junior Ryder Cup and an opponent in last year’s American Junior Golf Association Canon Cup. Thompson defeated Johnson, 3-and-1, in their East vs. West singles match. The two will be teammates again at the upcoming Junior Solheim Cup in Aurora, Ill.
“I mean, she's a good player,” said Johnson of Thompson, who won the Junior PGA Championship by 12 strokes last week and has a chance to become the first player ever to win these two events in the same year. “I mean she's just like anybody else.”
Against Schepperle, 21, of Birmingham, Ala., Johnson seized her lead at the 378-yard, par-4 fourth hole with a par and a Schepperle three-putt bogey. Johnson also won the fifth with par as Schepperle admitted to not putting any pressure on Johnson to make otherwise. Johnson then hit her approach to 6 feet at the 515-yard, par-5 sixth hole. By the turn, Johnson was 4 up and in complete control.
“I played pretty steady today,” Johnson said. “I had one birdie, one bogey, and hit a lot of greens. Actually, she had some three putts and I think I took advantage of those when she made some mistakes.”
Afterward, Schepperle, a senior at Auburn University, was disheartened about losing and being snake bit.
“It was a matter of not getting the most out of my good shots,” said Schepperle, a first-team All-America selection this past season who made the cut at last month’s U.S. Women’s Open. “It didn’t help getting down that much early, but I wasn’t worried at all.
“I just needed to be good to myself and keep trying to put some pressure on her.”
Schepperle’s father/caddie, David, spurred his daughter on after she won the 10th hole to carve into Johnson’s lead. “It’s a whole new ballgame now, it’s a whole new game,” he implored while walking to No. 11.
But Schepperle lost the following hole with a bogey after hitting “a decent drive and then getting the worst lie I think I’ve ever had,” she said. “That’s kind of the way the day went.”
Johnson’s run through the match-play bracket has caused her a bit of consternation. Admittedly, putting has been her biggest bugaboo, even in her convincing win on Friday. The La Quinta, Calif., resident says the problem is leaving too many birdie opportunities short of the hole.
“I have putted OK for the week, but some of the birdie chances I have, I seem to be coming out of the putt,” she said. “I just need to be more aggressive with them.”
If Johnson gets the flatstick figured out, then she may just make quick work of the remaining weekend.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose stories have previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.