Grace Choi wins 95th WTGA State Amateur Championship
DALLAS—Grace Choi sighed, took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. Minutes after she poured in three consecutive birdies and followed them with a clutch par save from a deep greenside bunker to win the 95th WTGA State Amateur Championship, 3 and 2, over Julie Houston, Choi had to explain how it all felt.
“It’s pretty incredible to have won this in my home state and in match play, which we don’t get to play very often,” said Choi, a senior at Michigan who dazzled the 20 or so gallery members who watched her play the final 11 holes at 3-under par. “And to do this on the 100th anniversary of Women’s Golf in Texas and here at Brook Hollow, it’s just … words can’t describe what it feels like.”
Through the first four matches of her title run, Choi never trailed in a single match. The Dallas native defeated a series of talented players, but none more determined than the scrappy Houston, a UT-San Antonio sophomore from Allen. Choi knew she wouldn’t get her hands on the WTGA State Amateur trophy without facing some adversity, and it came on the fifth hole of the Championship Match.
After she missed the fairway left, Choi pitched out of Brook Hollow’s ankle-deep rough and back into the fairway. She hit a 3-wood short of the green and then spun a wedge shot to 4 feet from the hole. After Houston made her par putt, Choi lipped hers out. Suddenly she was 1-down for the first time all week.
“I knew this was going to be a tough match,” said Choi, a First-Team All-Big 10 Selection after a pair of top-5 finishes last season. “I just tried to stay as calm as I possibly could when I was 1 down. I knew there were a lot more holes left, which helps. On this golf course, you can make a mistake or make a birdie on any hole.”
After the hiccup on the fifth hole, Choi was finished with the mistakes. The birdies were about to come. Houston, who won back-to-back college events for UTSA last season, stumbled on the seventh hole when she drove it into the trees and made double bogey. That brought the match to all square. She missed the green on the picturesque par-3 eighth hole, which led to bogey. Choi two-putted from 35 feet to grab a 1-up lead that she’d never relent.
For the next hour, the two evenly matched competitors took turns dissecting the A.W. Tillinghast-designed fairways. They traded crisply struck iron shots that routinely found the bentgrass putting surfaces. Choi and Houston matched each other par for par until the 13th hole, when Choi flew a wedge shot over a tree and onto the green about 25 feet from the hole. Moments later she curled in the slick, left-to-right breaker for birdie. Houston missed her birdie try from 20 feet to give Choi a 2-up advantage.
“For some reason when I got to that putt, I saw the line immediately,” Choi said. “I knew if I hit it with the right speed it was going to go in.”
Choi followed that with birdies on the next two holes. She was 3 up with four holes to play when she made the third consecutive birdie, a 14-footer on the 15th hole that dripped over the front edge of the hole with barely a revolution to spare. Houston, meanwhile, had 8 feet left for her birdie. She knew if she missed it, the match would be over.
“That was probably one of the most stressful putts I’ve ever had,” Houston said. “I felt confident, though. I’d been putting so well all day, but I hadn’t made anything. I felt like, ‘This is my putt. This is my hole.’ When I made it I was really happy because that was a fight to make it.”
Houston nearly aced the uphill, 188-yard par-3 15th. She hit a low bullet with her 21-degree hybrid; the ball bounced on the front edge of the green and rolled just past the hole. Choi dumped her hybrid shot into the front right bunker, one of 95 cavernous sand traps on historic golf course. Choi splashed out to 10 feet and calmly rolled in the putt. When Houston’s birdie try sailed past the hole, the match was over.
“I never felt comfortable until we were dormie,” said Choi, who in 2013 at Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High School won the UIL Class 4A State Championship and set records for total score (8-under par) and margin of victory (12 strokes). “I didn’t know Julie before today, but she earned her way to the Championship Match. I knew she could make birdie at any time, like she did on 15.”
Choi, who earned 100 Player of the Year points for the victory, had support from about 10 family members and friends, including her mom Tiffany, dad Troy and boyfriend Graeme Hamilton. Grandparents Steve and Wah Song and great uncle Ildo Kim also walked the fairways and cheered on Choi.
Houston had a rooting section, too. Her parents John and Janet Houston, as well as her older brother Jeff, were thrilled with the way Houston fought back and competed with guts and class. Janet was in attendance all week and walked alongside every hole of her daughter’s groups.
For both competitors, the 95th WTGA State Amateur was their final event of the summer. Both head back to school soon, but they have different long-term goals. Houston plans to turn professional after college and wants to make a name for herself on the LPGA Tour.
Choi isn’t as interested in that.
“I like amateur golf,” said Choi, a two-time Academic All-American and Economics Major. “All the competitors who came out here this week, people who maybe competed in college 20 years ago and are a lot older than I am and are still playing golf, that’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to enjoy the game for the rest of my life, and I don’t know if going pro would really accomplish that. It might be unnecessary stress. I want to play golf for fun.”
Choi achieved that goal during the weeklong championship at Brook Hollow. After a 5-over 76 in Tuesday’s Qualifying Round, Choi on Wednesday defeated Autumn Bynum of Montgomery, 5 and 3, in the Round of 32. Choi then took down Amber Park of Allen, 4 and 3 in the Round of 16. On Thursday, Choi got past Brielle Ward of Frisco, 4 and 3, in the Quarterfinals. In the Semifinals, Choi cruised to a 7-and-6 victory over Maty Monzingo from Trophy Club to set up Friday’s Championship Match against Houston
On Thursday, Katharine Patrick of West University Place won the 18-hole Consolation Bracket Championship with an even-par 72. The 56 players who didn’t qualify for the Championship Bracket after Tuesday’s Qualifying Round were divided up into seven match play flights based on their GHIN Handicap Indexes. For complete results on the flights, click here.
Not just the oldest women’s amateur tournament in Texas, the 95th WTGA State Amateur was a highlight of the yearlong celebration of 100 years of Women’s Golf in Texas. Since January, the TGA’s Breaking 100 program has highlighted the significance of Texas Women’s Golf on women’s golf nationwide and internationally. The celebration culminates Nov. 1 with the Breaking 100 Gala at Houston Country Club, during which icons of the game Kathy Whitworth, Sandra Haynie, Carol Mann and Sandra Palmer will be featured panelists in a unique presentation.
Whitworth, the 88-time LPGA Tour winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member, was in attendance Friday. So was Marty Leonard, a three-time WTGA State Am Finalist and Texas Golf Hall of Famer. Several competitors, including Choi and Houston, had their pictures taken with the living legends. Whitworth and Leonard had lunch with the two finalists after play concluded. Haynie, who won 42 LPGA Tour events and four majors, attended the championship Wednesday and met several players.
For more information on the 95th WTGA State Amateur, click here.