End of the Line

Coloradan Lauren Lehigh sees her stellar run at U.S. Women’s Amateur end in quarterfinals as her opponent holes out twice from off the green

By Gary Baines – 8/12/2022

That’s what you call, in golf parlance, running into a buzzsaw — one apparently activated by live TV coverage.

Lauren Lehigh of Loveland never trailed in her first three matches at this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Wash. And that streak remained intact for a while in Friday’s quarterfinals — until the Golf Channel began its daily telecast of the event at 5 p.m. (MT). 

After the two players tied each of the first five holes, Lehigh’s opponent, Saki Baba of Japan, reeled off four straight hole-winning birdies to take command against the two-time Colorado girls state high school champion.

Then, to add salt to Lehigh’s wound, Baba holed out from 118 yards on the par-4 12th hole to go 5 up. It was her second hole-out of the day as she chipped in for birdie from behind the green on No. 7.

That impressive stretch led to the end of Lehigh’s stellar run at the U.S. Women’s Am, arguably the most prestigious women’s amateur championship in the world.  In fact, no other Colorado resident — including current LPGA standout Jennifer Kupcho — has advanced to the quarterfinals of the event in the last two decades.

Baba closed out Lehigh on the 15th hole, 4 and 3, after Baba sank a 12-foot par putt, while Lehigh missed a 6-foot birdie attempt.

Lauren Lehigh hits her tee shot at the 12th hole on Friday at Chambers Bay. (Photo: Darren Carroll/USGA)

Despite Friday’s loss, it was a memorable performance for Lehigh, the University of New Mexico golfer who won her first three matches with relative ease — 3 and 2, 6 and 5, and 4 and 3. And by making it to the quarterfinals, she earned an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur — assuming she remains an amateur at that point. Next year’s Women’s Am is set for Aug. 7-13 at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.

As Lehigh noted on Thursday, “I finally made it back here this year, and my only goal was to make match play. To make it this far is pretty unbelievable.”

The 17-year-old Saki was a formidable opponent. She’s No. 45 in the women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings and finished 49th in the U.S. Women’s Open this year. Comparatively, Lehigh is No. 520 in those rankings, but figures to get a big bump with her performance at Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open.

Lehigh, a former Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado Girls Player of the Year, finished under par in each of her previous three matches, but ended up 1 over in the 15 holes of the quarterfinals. Her only individual hole victories came at the 10th, where she drained a 15-foot par putt and Baba missed a 4-footer, and No. 14, where Lehigh made a 4-foot par to keep the match going. 

The Coloradan had finished 11th in a college tournament in April that gave her a preview of Chambers Bay.

Lehigh was attempting to become the third at-the-time Colorado resident to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Jill McGill earned the title in 1993 and finished second in ’94. Barbara McIntire prevailed in 1964 and also won in 1959 while a Florida resident. And Babe Didrikson Zaharias claimed the victory in 1946.

Baba ended up 3 under on Friday. Baba is attempting to become the second Japanese player to win this championship, following Michiko Hattori (1985). She’ll face Bailey Shoemaker of Dade City, Fla., in Saturday’s semifinals. The scheduled 36-hole final is set for Sunday.

(Aug. 14 Update: Baba went on to win the title on Sunday with an 11-and-9 victory over Monet Chun of Canada in the title match.)

Lehigh qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur — for the second time — by shooting a 2-under-par 70 on June 30 at Colorado National Golf Club in Erie.

For all the scoring from the U.S. Women’s Amateur, CLICK HERE.