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Semifinals Set at Girls Match Play Championship

THE COLONY – Four young ladies are two match play victories away from playing in an LPGA Tour event later this year.

The inaugural Girls Match Play Championship, a single-elimination tournament for 16 of the best junior girls in Texas, began Friday at Old American Golf Club. The winner of the Girls Match Play Championship earns an exemption into the LPGA’s Volunteers of America Classic. It’ll be a dream come true for the girl who prevails at Old American. She’ll get to tee it up against the best golfers in the world from Dec. 3-6 back at Old American in the LPGA’s third-to-last event of the year.

After two rounds of matches, Saturday’s Semifinal matches are set. Maegan Winans from Richardson, Fort Worth’s Savannah Barber, Alexa Sladana from Naucalpan, Mexico, and Tillie Claggett from The Woodlands are the last four players standing.

Each of them had to overcome some adversity on Friday.

Claggett, a junior at The John Cooper School who has committed to play college golf at Vanderbilt, had to play her Round of 16 and Quarterfinals matches with a 58-degree wedge she bought in the Old American pro shop about 30 minutes before her morning match. She lost her wedge, she thinks, during Thursday’s practice round.

After realizing it less than an hour before her morning match, she and her parents scrambled around looking for the lost wedge. Finally, she broke down and bought a new one and off she went. Before she knew what happened, she was 4 down through seven holes to San Antonio’s Grace Jin.

“I was definitely nervous,” said Claggett, who qualified for the Girls Match Play Championship with her victory at the Southern Texas PGA Prestige Tour’s 2020 Mid-Summer Showcase. “But I told myself, ‘I’ve lost matches from being 4 up before, and I’ve won matches from being 4 down before.’ Anything can happen in match play, so I just kept my head down and never told myself I was out of it.”

Claggett won the eighth hole to trim her deficit to 3 down. By the time she and Jin reached the par-5 17th hole, the match was even. Claggett went for the green in two shots, but she sprayed her 3-wood approach into the heather grass about 60 yards from the green. Back at her home course in The Woodlands, she practices a short-sided 60-yard pitch shot that she has to hit high so the ball lands softly. She channeled her practice sessions and – with the brand new 58-degree wedge – she lofted a shot that finished 3 feet from the hole.

Claggett tapped in the birdie, and then she birdied the 18th hole to win, 2 up. Claggett’s Quarterfinals match was less dramatic; she won 5 & 3 over Julia Vollmer from San Antonio.

Winans, a Plano East senior who has committed to Oklahoma, found herself 2 down through three holes in her Round of 16 match against Frisco’s Sydney Williams.

“It was really early in the round,” said Winans, who won the Legends Junior Tour’s 2019 James A. Ragan Memorial. “So I just tried to play solidly and bring it back, which I did.”

Winans, who got into the Girls Match Play Bracket through the Northern Texas PGA’s 2020 LPGA Tour Exemption Series, won eight of the next 11 holes to score a dominating 5 & 4 victory. In the Quarterfinals, Winans cruised to a 7 & 5 victory over Mia Nixon from Canton. Winans is hoping to return to the LPGA’s VOA Classic. In 2018, Winans qualified as an amateur for the professional event through a high school stroke play tournament.

That year, the VOA Classic was rain-shortened to 36 holes.

“I didn’t really get the full experience because of all the rain that year,” Winans said. “I’m hoping to get back so I can experience it the way it’s supposed to be – and it would be great just to get to play in another professional event.”

Barber, a high school junior at Spring Creek Academy in Plano, was 2 down through four holes in her Quarterfinals match to Amelia Guo from Seabrook. Barber, who earned her spot in the 16-player field through her top-20 ranking in the LJT’s 2020 Player of the Year points race, she said stayed patient and waited for her chance to strike back.

“Once I got some momentum going, it got easier and easier,” said Barber, who attends the Crown Golf Academy in Arlington. Barber won her Quarterfinals match, 3 & 2.

Saldana, the final Semifinalist, is Barber’s roommate and close friend at Crown Golf Academy. Saldana was 1 down through six holes in the Quarterfinals against Lauren Nguyen from Katy.

“I played with confidence after that and won the seventh hole with a birdie,” said Saldana, who qualified for the Girls Match Play Championship through her third-place finish at the LJT’s George Hannon Invitational earlier this summer.

Saldana never looked back from there and won the match, 3 & 2, with an 8-foot par on the 16th hole. The two friends and roomies – Saldana and Barber – will face each other in Saturday’s Semifinals. Winans and Claggett will play in the other Semifinals match.

The Girls Match Play Championship was created this year through the Texas Junior Golf Alliance. It’s meant for the best junior girls in Texas who have distinguished themselves on the Legends Junior Tour, STPGA Prestige Tour or the NTPGA’s All-American Tour.

“The Texas Junior Golf Alliance was excited for the opportunity to provide its players with a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Legends Junior Tour Tournament Director Kevin Porter said. “The chance to compete among professional golfers is something that all these athletes have dreamed about, and to reward the champion of the Girls Match Play Championship an exemption is an honor for the tours involved.”

The Tripp Davis-designed Old American course, now 10 years old, served as a worthy setting for the top juniors in Texas. Davis got help from 12-time PGA Tour winner, Ryder Cup hero and Dallas native Justin Leonard on the creation of Old American. Perched against the banks of Lake Lewisville, Old American is a breathtaking throwback to “Golden Age” of golf course architecture, when icons such as Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast allowed the land to dictate how holes were routed.

Old American blends seamlessly with the area’s organic beauty. Holes are framed by rough-hewn bunkers, large swaths of native grasses and the ever-present Lake Lewisville. The rolling fairways, natural hazards and large, undulating putting surfaces challenge even the most skilled players who tackle Old American, yet the five sets of tee markers allow everyone to play from a comfortable yardage.

The competitors in Friday’s Round of 16 and Quarterfinal matches played Old American from 6,132 yards. For more information on the Girls Match Play Championship, click here.