Saki Baba doesn’t lack for confidence.
As she was orchestrating a dominating semifinal performance Saturday afternoon at Chambers Bay, the 17-year-old from Japan never questioned her prospects of reaching Sunday’s final of the 122nd U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“During the round I was just thinking, I’m going to win, I’m going to win, the whole time,” said Baba, who did just that, routing fellow 17-year-old Bailey Shoemaker, 7 and 6. It's the largest margin of victory in the semifinals of this championship since 1992, when Annika Sorenstam beat Pat Cornett-Iker by the same score.
It was a matchup of two high schoolers who have already enjoyed their fair shares of success in USGA championships this year. Baba was the stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior before advancing to the Round of 32 last month. She also made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open and tied for 49th, a finish duplicated by Shoemaker, who was also runner-up with partner Kaitlyn Schroeder at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
But Baba won five of the first seven holes and never looked back on this day. Dating to her quarterfinal match, Baba has won 14 of her last 22 holes – “I can’t even remember one three-putt she’s had all week; her putting has been amazing,” said Baba’s caddie, Beau Brushert – and she’ll now meet Canada’s Monet Chun, a junior at the University of Michigan, in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match.
Chun quit competitive golf during high school to rebuild her game and is now the reigning Big Ten individual medalist and Canadian Women’s Amateur champion. She defeated UCLA’s Annabel Wilson, 2 and 1, to cement the third all-international final in the past seven U.S. Women’s Amateurs. Prior to that, there had only been one.
“It feels amazing, honestly,” Chun said. “Coming into this week, I couldn't imagine being in this spot, so yeah, I'm pretty happy about it.”
Before they even hit a shot on Sunday, Baba and Chun, ranked Nos. 45 and 143, respectively, are now exempt into next summer’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. Baba is looking to become the first Japanese player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur since Michiko Hattori did in 1985. Chun can become the third Canadian to win the championship.