There’s something special and absolutely wicked about the 36-hole match that awards the U.S. Men’s and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships each summer. Special in that anything can happen, regardless of the first 18 holes. And wicked for the same exact reason.
It was Vivian Hou going up against Jensen Castle in the Women’s Amateur final Sunday at Westchester Country Club, a battle between the 53rd and 63rd seeds in the event. Underdogs each of them, who had managed to play their way into the final match.
That they were tied after four holes and seven holes and 14 holes was a sign of what the match became. Hou was up after five holes and after 12 holes and after 18 holes. Then, after a break for lunch, she started slow and gave up her lead immediately. If the match had just been 18 holes, like every other match in the event, Hou would be the Women’s Amateur champ. So it goes during the championship matches.
Castle pressed her with birdies on the 19th hole, the 20th and the 21st to even things up again. It wasn’t until Hou rallied on her own with birdies on the 30th, 31st and 34th to get herself back to 1 Down with two to play. Unfortunately, she never got both of them. Castle canned a 13-footer on the 35th hole of the match for a winning birdie, her ninth of the day.
Castle, a rising junior at the University of Kentucky, had plenty of support out there with her, as evidenced by the accompanying roar, but also her assistant coach with the hardest fist pump of the day from the gallery. Hou’s teammates and coach consoled her as she came to tears.
Castle was about as much of an underdog as is imaginable. She survived a 12 for 2 playoff just to advance to the match play portion of the event, and didn’t even bring enough clothes for seven days worth of golf. The blue shirt she wore during the final match was the same one she wore in her round of 64 match on Wednesday. She even used the same golf ball for five straight rounds during the competition. Perhaps that’s the best sign of all.
“It has not registered at all,” Castle said afterward. “It was just another match — fairways and greens is all I thought of. And here I am holding this heavy trophy.”