Seven of the eight quarter-finalists Thursday at the 99th annual Women’s Southern Golf Association amateur championship at Gaillardia Country Club were college players. The exception was 15-year-old phenom Mika Liu, who reached the finals.
Liu, a Beverly Hills, Calif., native who moved across the country to attend the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., will play Oklahoma State’s Jayde Panos in a 36-hole final on Friday.
“To make the finals against all these great college players means so much,” said Liu, who just completed her freshman year of high school. “I can learn a lot from them. I’m really looking forward to the finals, another learning experience for me.”
Kayli Quinton, who will be a junior at Arkansas, birdied four of the first 10 holes to build a three-hole lead in the semifinals against Liu.
The match turned on the 11th hole, when Liu chipped in off the green and Quinton missed a 10-foot birdie putt.
“I wasn’t expecting her to chip in, but knowing her game, I shouldn’t have been surprised,” Quinton said. “Knowing she never messes up I think got to me a little mentally. She’s so solid. I played well, but she was stronger at the end.”
Liu notched six birdies, including on No. 14 and No. 15, to tie the match. She won it on 18 by reaching the 500-yard, par 5, in two shots. Quinton had to punch out from beneath a tree, the only time she missed a fairway in the match.
Earlier this year, Liu, who sometimes drills 300-yard drives, finished fifth in a pro tournament. She declined the prize money at the Volvik Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla., to maintain her amateur status.
She’s already earned medalist honors in 10 national events, including the 2011 and 2013 USGA U.S. Girls junior qualifier. She also was on the winning 2012 and 2013 U.S. Juniors Team at the Junior Masters, the first player selected to Team USA two years in a row.
“I knew she was a fantastic player,” Quinton said. “I actually played with her when she was 12 and I was 17 at a U.S. junior event in Chicago. She even hit farther than me back then. She’s so long off the tee and has a great short game. She’s an incredible player.”
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