Seventeen-year-old Saki Baba of Japan won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in dominant fashion on Sunday night, pouring in birdie after birdie en route to an 11&9 victory over 21-year-old Money Chun of Canada.
Baba wasted no time in jumping out to a big lead in the 36-hole final at breathtaking host site Chambers Bay. She won No. 1 with a par and then ran off birdies at 2, 4, 5 and 8 to jump to a 5 up lead. She didn’t look back; three birdies on the back nine got her to 7 up at the halfway mark. That was the biggest 18-hole lead in the event since 1961.
Baba entered the week without any experience on a course like Chambers, which is a pseudo-links course on the shores of the Puget Sound. It seemed to agree with her just fine.
“It was my first time to be able to play on this kind of a course because they don’t have it in Japan, but I think I was able to adjust to it as I went on, so yeah, it was good,” she said.
Chun, who plays for the University of Michigan, hit back by winning two of the first three holes in the afternoon session, cutting her deficit to 5 up. But Baba, who plays for Japan’s international junior program, snuffed out any hopes of a comeback with a wild stretch of wins. She birdied 4, 5 and 6, made par at 7, birdied 8 and then hit it in tight at No. 9, setting up her fifth birdie in six holes.
She poured the putt for 2 in the center of the cup, putting an appropriate stamp on the 11&9 victory. In all, Baba logged 12 birdies in the final in just 27 holes. While Baba was humble in victory, her caddie Beau Brushert was effusive in his praise for her game.
“What was impressive about her, if she made a mistake on a hole or lost a hole, like you saw she missed that putt on 3 earlier in the second 18, and that just woke her up. She birdied five of the next six holes. That’s kind of what she did all week. If she made a mistake, lost a hole, it woke her up and she bounced right back. She didn’t let it get her down. She’s amazing. She’s a lot of fun to watch,” he said.
It all added up to a historic margin of victory, the largest in the event since Anne Sander in 1961. The only downer was that the match result was so dominant the two finalists didn’t get to showcase Chambers’ scenic back nine one more time.
“Honestly, I was trying to match up, but it was pretty amazing just to watch,” Chun said. “She was going for every pin, making every putt, and that’s hard to match up, I think.”
The win was historic for Baba’s home nation of Japan, which had just one USGA winner before Sunday: Michiko Hattori also won the U.S. Women’s Amateur title in 1985.
Baba said she has no real plans for future tournaments. That’s about to change. With the win, she gains an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach as well as the 2023 Chevron Championship, AIG Women’s British Open and Evian Championship, provided she remains an amateur.
She is also exempt for the next 10 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, if she remains an amateur. And she receives entry into the 2023 U.S. Girls’ Junior as well as an invitation to the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Am.