The last year was chock-full of entertaining golf. What stood out the most from the Ryder and Solheim cups, many major championships and million-dollar made-for-TV events? How about a 6-and-4 junior match just outside the nation’s capital.
If you weren’t lucky enough to be in the gallery back in July at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, for the 72nd U.S. Girls’ Junior, then Rose Zhang’s big win might seem pretty pedestrian. No matter the outcome, history was going to be made in the 36-hole final. And just like books and their covers, you can’t judge a match purely by its score. Just ask Bailey Davis. The local Maryland talent was aiming to be the first Black American female to win a USGA championship, but her 6-and-4 defeat was more telling of her character than ability (not to mention Zhang’s talent).
An incoming Stanford freshman at the time, Zhang, who went on to win her first three college starts for the Cardinal this fall, opened the morning play with a bogey-free 6-under 64 (with match-play concessions) and went to the lunch break with a 4-up lead. Davis played well, carding an even-par 70 – a score that might be good enough to hold a lead in previous U.S. Girls’ Juniors – with just one real blemish, a double-bogey on the par-5 12th.
“Bailey was making almost every putt she looked at, and I just had to stay patient and keep up with her. said Zhang. “That’s what you have to do with your opponent, and I think that I did that pretty well.”
Davis cut the lead early in the afternoon and hung around for a few more holes before Zhang started doing what she does best: make birdies in abundance. Zhang rattled off three birdies over four holes to take a 6-up lead through 26 holes. Eventually up five with five to play, Zhang’s last opponent of the marathon week was Mother Nature, who stopped play for three hours before Zhang closed out the match on the 33rd hole with, you guessed it, a birdie after hitting the flagstick with her approach from the rough.
After she won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at nearby Woodmont Country Club, Zhang had been feeling the good vibes in Maryland and had the gallery to prove it. The only player who came close all week was Davis.
“It was amazing having so many people out here. A lot of friends and family and family friends, teachers, coaches, so many people came out to watch me this week, and I am beyond blessed to have them out here,” said Davis of her final-match fans. “I was 6-down at one point and they were like, ‘You got this.’ I was 5-down, five holes to play and they were like, ‘You can do this, Bailey.’ So that meant a lot to me to know they were out here supporting me and they know I could have possibly won.”
“I played a great match today, but Rose just played better,” Davis continued. “We just take from this experience and learn for the next.”
The records will show Zhang as just the eighth player to win both the Women’s Amateur and Girls’ Junior, and the first to win the junior after the amateur. The records won’t show Davis as a winner, instead they’ll show her smiling with her chin up despite defeat and accepting the challenge to improve.
Neither player teed it up for guaranteed money or a large purse. Instead they did so for the purest of reasons, the love of the game, and that’s the kind of theater multi-million dollar appearance fees will never produce.