UNM's Lehigh exceeds expectations in US Amateur - Albuquerque Journal

UNM’s Lehigh exceeds expectations in US Amateur

Lauren Lehigh tees off on the 12th hole, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, during the round of 32 of the USGA Women’s Amateur Golf Championship at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. Lehigh beat Anna Fang in the match play round. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Lauren Lehigh’s magical week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur lasted longer than she expected.

It also ended a bit sooner than she might have liked.

Lehigh, a rising senior on the University of New Mexico women’s golf team, was eliminated in Friday’s quarterfinals, dropping a 4-and-3 decision to Japan’s Saki Baba in match play at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington.

Lehigh did not beat herself on Friday. Despite narrowly missing a few potential birdie putts, she was at even par through 15 holes.

Baba simply caught fire over a seven-hole stretch, draining four straight birdies at one point and holing in a 118-yard approach shot for eagle on the par-4 12th hole to build a 5-up lead and roll into Saturday’s semifinals.

Lehigh accomplished plenty before bowing out. The Loveland, Colorado, native shot rounds of 77-70 in stroke play to earn a spot among the final 64 for match play. She then won three straight matches in impressive fashion, never trailing at any point, to advance to the quarters.

By reaching the final eight, Lehigh earned an exemption for the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur – and got an opportunity to play on national TV. Friday’s quarters were carried by Golf Channel.

“I finally made it back here this year, and my only goal was to make match play,” Lehigh told the United States Golf Association’s Greg Midland after the round of 16. “To make it this far is pretty unbelievable.”

Lehigh sported a UNM golf polo for Friday’s match, which was tied after five holes before Baba’s hot streak turned things her way. Lehigh had already exceeded her own expectations and ended up having to scramble to find last-minute accommodations for her run to the quarterfinals.

Her caddie for the tournament provided them.

“He’s actually a course caddie. His name is Chel,” Lehigh said. “He’s been incredible. The experience he’s had on this course has helped – it’s been amazing having him on the bag. I’m actually staying with him because I only booked my AirBNB through Thursday. I won (Wednesday), and I’m like, hey Chel, do you have a guest room by any chance?”

Lehigh has played in pressure situations before. She tied for individual medalist honors at the 2021 MWC Championships before falling in a playoff, and tied for third in 2022, advancing NCAA Regionals as an individual qualifier.

Lehigh failed to make the cut in her only previous U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2019 but was well-prepared this time around. She played Chambers Bay with her UNM teammates in April, getting familiar with links-style course along Washington’s Puget Sound.

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