Trojan War: Song Ousts Friend, Teammate Salas In Second Round
By David Shefter, USGA
St. Louis – As Lizette Salas and Jennifer Song gave each other a pre-match hug prior to their second-round encounter Thursday morning at the 109th U.S. Women’s Amateur, one expected Traveler, the University of Southern California’s equine mascot, to come dashing out onto the first tee.
Or at least the Trojan band to break out into a rendition of “Fight On.”
No such pomp and circumstance existed at Old Warson Country Club. The only fanfare – if one can call it that – was USGA Women’s Committee member Ede Rice announcing the two competitors for the 9:50 a.m. CDT match.
Once the balls were struck, the pleasantries went away and the focus began for the two USC teammates, who had the unfortunate luck of meeting so early in the competition.
Each of the 2008-09 first-team All-Americans received a text message from Trojan coach Andrea Gaston Wednesday night, saying she was happy both posted first-round wins but disappointed by their next opponent.
At least Gaston was guaranteed of one Trojan advancing. That happened to be the 19-year-old Song, whose red-hot putter carried the Ann Arbor, Mich., native to an impressive 4-and-2 win.
Song, the 2009 NCAA Freshman of the Year, opened the match by converting birdie putts of 15 and 30 feet – the latter from the fringe – and had only 10 putts through the first nine holes.
“I started laughing on the second hole because I hadn’t even putted yet,” said the 20-year-old Salas of Azusa, Calif., who will be a junior this fall. “That’s Jennifer. I knew she was going to come out strong right on the first hole. She wasn’t going to give me any cushion.”
It was the type of performance one has been accustomed to seeing from Song. In June, she claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title at Red Tail Golf Club in Devens, Mass., by hitting 23 of 23 fairways and 25 of 30 greens in a 7-and-6 championship-match rout of Kimberly Kim. With the usual match-play concessions, she was the equivalent of nine under par over the 30 holes.
A few weeks later, she earned low-amateur honors at the U.S. Women’s Open and her tie for 13th guaranteed Song a spot in the 2010 Women’s Open.
After competing in two Duramed Futures Tour events, Song came to the Women’s Amateur hoping to become just the second player in USGA history to win the WAPL and Women’s Amateur in the same year. Pearl Sinn achieved the feat in 1988. The USC sophomore-to-be struggled through stroke play, but believes she is hitting her stride.
“I think I was tired after playing so many tournaments,” said Song. “I was off for a week and we took a tour around St. Louis. The first two days I was trying to get back into the tournament atmosphere. Now I am past it. I think I am in it.”
She certainly was dialed in on the challenging Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed greens. At the par-3 third hole, with Salas looking at a short 7-foot par putt, Song got up and down from the back bunker, holing a 10-foot par putt. At the fourth, she rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt before Salas made her birdie from 12 feet.
And when Salas did manage to cut into Song’s lead, her foe had a counter punch. Salas won the sixth with a par to get within a hole, only to see Song birdie the par-3 seventh from 5 feet and roll in a 30-footer from the fringe at No. 8 for a 3-up lead. Salas would get no closer than 2 down the rest of the match. It ended when Salas missed a 6-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th and she conceded Song’s 3-footer for birdie.
“I just wasn’t myself today,” said Salas, who employed the caddie services of good friend and 2000 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Greg Puga this week. “[Greg] did help me with match play. I just didn’t execute.”
For Salas, the good showing at the Women’s Amateur was a sign that her back injury is starting to heal. The night before the final round at this year’s NCAAs at Caves Valley, she strained her lower back. Medication helped her play the final round and the Women’s Amateur Public Links in Massachusetts, where she lost in the third round, but she elected to pull out of her U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier.
Through rehab and medication, Salas returned to action last month for her Women’s Amateur qualifier at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena, Calif., where she posted a 63 to earn medalist honors.
“Hopefully it won’t happen again,” said Salas of the injury, “and my back will be stronger. The trainers at USC are incredible and I’ve been getting better. I am working on getting my left side stronger.”
Salas also hopes this setback to Song will make her a stronger player.
“Jennifer … is an awesome player and I’m right there with her,” said Salas. “I just have to work a little harder.”
Added Song: “I was heartbroken for Lilly. Definitely, she’s a great player. Of course there has to be a winner at the end so I have no choice. We played really hard together and it was really fun.”
Song did not have long time to rest before her Thursday afternoon third-round encounter with Cydney Clanton, a quarterfinalist at this year’s WAPL and the runner-up at last month’s North and South Women’s Amateur.
At least Clanton is a Tiger (Auburn), not a Trojan.
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.