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Japanese teenager Saki Baba wins U.S. Women's Amateur at Chambers Bay

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 8/15/2022 Jon Manley, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Aug. 15—UNIVERSITY PLACE — Saki Baba watched as her opponent, Monet Chun, placed her approach shot on the back of the green on the 14th hole at the final of the 122nd U.S. Women's Amateur at Chambers Bay Golf Course on Sunday. It was a good shot, drawing applause from the gallery.

Then it was Baba's turn. The 17-year-old from Japan hit her shot into the slope in the middle of the green and the ball rolled gently toward the flag, landing mere feet from the pin and setting her up for a birdie on the par four.

Anything you can do, I can do better.

Baba jumped out to an early lead in the 36-hole match play final at Chambers on Sunday morning and never looked back, winning 11 and 9 over Chun, a 21-year-old Canadian golfer and junior at the University of Michigan. For the second straight day, Baba was dominant, not giving her opponent a glimmer of hope.

"In this case, I think I was really able to play my kind of golf," Baba said through a translator. "Everything just went smoothly. It's the first time to be able to play this kind of course, because we don't have it in Japan. I think I was able to adjust to it as it went on, so it was good."

She birded the par three No. 9 to end the match, before it could even get to the back nine. Baba became the first Japanese golf-born golfer to win the U.S. Women's Amateur since Michiko Hattori in 1985.

As the holes passed, Baba gave a subtle tip of her cap after particularly good shots. Her demeanor was mostly stoic, the hat tip a recognition to herself as much as it was to the gallery, a sign of quiet confidence. Occasionally, she'd crack a smile while talking to her caddie Beau Brushert, who has caddied at Chambers Bay for 13 years.

"I love her demeanor," Brushert said. "There's a little bit of a language barrier, but I could tell when she'd get a little quiet, I tried to give her a little smile and just get her mind off stuff. Her poise and composure is amazing."

Like when Chun won the second and third holes on the second round of 18 on Sunday. Baba's response? Winning the next six holes, carding birdies on five of them.

"That just woke her up," Brushert said. "She birdied five of the next six holes. That's what she did all week. If she made a mistake, lost a hole, it woke her up and she bounced right back. She's amazing. She's a lot of fun to watch."

She holed out No. 5, chipping in from the back edge of the green.

"She takes that little 58 degree wedge anywhere off the green and just every time, it's got a chance to go in," Brushert said. "Her putting — I don't think she had one three-putt all week, which is amazing on these greens. They're so undulated, they're fast. But her putting won it for her. She just putted great all week."

Baba credited the rapport with Brushert and despite the language barrier, his help keeping her morale up and managing the course.

"If it wasn't for Beau, I don't think I would have been able to make it," Baba said. "He was a big help."

Of course, she didn't always take all of her caddie's advice.

"(I'm telling her), 'We've gotta miss right. We've gotta be five, six, eight yards right of that flag. That's the safe play, that's where we're gonna go, we'll two-putt and get out,'" Brushert recalled. "She hits it and I look up and she's firing right at the flagstick. I'm like, (mimics heavy breathing, laughing)."

"Like I said, she has no fear. It was a lot of fun to watch. She's pretty amazing. Seventeen years old. I can't believe it. It's unbelievable."

Chun had occasional chances to close the gap, but struggled with her putter and was never able to fully swing the momentum. She was gracious in her loss, crediting Baba's play and saying she was grateful to find herself competing in Sunday's final.

"I couldn't have imagined making it this far and being here," she said. "It's an incredible honor and also just great to represent Michigan and Canada, as well."

Sometimes she had to shake her head, watching her opponent.

"I was trying to match it up but it was pretty amazing just to watch," Chun said. "She was going for every pin, making every putt. That's hard to match up."

PERFECT WEATHER, VIEWS AT CHAMBERS BAY ON SUNDAY

The hundreds of spectators in the gallery were treated to high-level golf from both competitors and a chance to walk the course on a perfect, sunny day.

"You can't get any better than this," a man in the gallery said to his partner as they approached the 14th tee box, offering a panoramic view of Puget Sound. She nodded in agreement, taking it all in.

The views make Chambers an ideal candidate for a future U.S. Open or U.S. Women's Open. There are plenty of great golf courses around the United States, but few can match the pure splendor of Chambers Bay, especially on 80-plus degree days in mid-August. There were several of those "wow" moments as spectators walked the course, each hole offering a different view.

PUTTING GREENS LOOK, PLAY GREAT

The somewhat recent switch of the putting greens from fescue to poa annua seems to have paid off, too. The greens were in fantastic shape this week, playing fast and smooth. The greens were heavily criticized by professional golfers during the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers. Since the switch to poa annua, reviews have been positive.

Mark Hill, the USGA's managing director of championships, was on hand Thursday and Friday to observe. He offered some thoughts on the revamped greens

"I think they're outstanding," he told The News Tribune in a Q&A. "We saw that and heard it during the four-ball. We survey our players after each championship. We certainly heard very clearly that they enjoyed the challenge at the four-ball and really enjoyed the putting greens. It's my understanding that the conversion has been good for Chambers Bay, good for business, good for everyday play and good for the players. So yeah, good all around."

This story was originally published August 14, 2022 6:50 PM.

(c)2022 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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