by Leanne Leonard

WAYNE, N.J. Fourteen year-old Kuriko Tsukiyama of Overpeck Golf Course made history yesterday. She became the youngest player to win the NJSGA Women’s Amateur Championship in the eighty-five year history of the event when she defeated five-time champion Sherry Herman of Hollywood Golf Club on the last hole of the championship match at North Jersey Country Club.

The 36-hole final match began with Herman, the defending champion and reigning U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur champion, the heavy favorite – although Tsukiyama’s performance in previous matches and her medalist finish in the qualifying round had people wondering if an upset was in the offing. After the first nine holes, the match was all square with both players shooting one under par. Herman took a brief lead on the tenth hole with a birdie on the long par-4, but Tsukiyama responded by winning 12, 13, 14 and 18, finishing the morning leg with a 3-up lead over Herman.

When the second 18-hole leg began in the afternoon, it looked like Tsukiyama was going to run away with the match as she extended her lead to 4-up when Herman bogeyed the fourth hole. Both players stayed focused, matching each other shot for shot and halving the next several holes. The momentum shifted to Herman when Tsukiyama missed a short putt on the ninth after it appeared she would win the hole and extend her lead to 5-up. Spurred by the miss, Herman began chiseling away at Tsukiyama’s lead, and with consecutive birdies at the eleventh and twelfth cut her lead to 2-up with six holes remaining.

Many of the fans watching the match knew the veteran Herman had faced similar situations in the past and prevailed. Her comeback style was demonstrated as recently as the quarter-final match when Allison Kucinski of North Jersey was 2-up with five to play. Herman rallied and won that match on the first extra hole.

However, with her steady approach and attitude, Tsukiyama managed to halve holes 13, 14, 15 and 16. She summed up her philosophy: “Not to dwell on anything, whether it’s a good shot or a bad shot. I take things one shot at a time.” As a result of the seventeenth hole, the 35th of the match, she needed to draw on that philosophy more than ever when she three-putted from just six feet. Now her lead in the match was just one with one hole to play. "I was just thinking about the line,” Tsukiyama said of her first putt on #17, which sailed five feet past the hole. “The speed? I didn’t even think about that. I felt like an idiot.” She had every reason to be upset. Instead, she just smiled and walked calmly to the next tee. Keeping her emotions in check, Tsukiyama’s approach to the eighteenth landed 30 feet from the hole, while Herman was just off the green. After Tsukiyama rolled her approach putt to within 18 inches of the cup and Herman’s chip out of deep rough didn’t quite make the green, Herman conceded the hole for the 2-up victory for Tsukiyama. After the match, Herman was gracious in defeat and complimented her competitor, “I didn’t know anything about her, but what she did today was impressive. She hung in there. She was just fantastic and has a bright future. It was really nice to see.”

In addition to the championship match, two other flights concluded on Thursday. The first flight was won by Noelle Maertz of Hyatt Hills Golf Club, defeating Christina Hall of Manasquan River Golf Club in 19 holes. In the second flight, Sue Dahabsu from Sun Eagles beat Paige Pillar from Eagle Oaks, 5 and 4.

The challenging 5,792 yard, par 72 North Jersey course is both a physical and mental challenge with hilly terrain, fast, undulating greens and numerous blind shots. Though the hot weather broke for the first few days of the tournament, the heat and humidity returned on the final day, proving to be a test of stamina for the finalists who were playing that day.

To view the full match play bracket, click here.

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