29 April 2021: The 6th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship that was contested at Maridoe Golf Club the past five days featured a plethora of teenage prodigies, some experienced college players and a few wily mid-amateurs/seniors who own a combined 14 USGA titles.
But it was a pair of unheralded 17-year-olds ranked in the 1,500s of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking® who walked away with the title.
Savannah Barber, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Alexa Saldana, of Mexico, who became roommates last year at the Arlington, Texas-based Crown Golf Academy 30 minutes from Maridoe, defeated Jillian Bourdage and Casey Weidenfeld, 5 and 4, in Wednesday’s 18-hole championship match.
“This means so much,” said Barber. “It’s really special.”
Barber (No. 1504 in the WAGR) and Saldana (No. 1582) completed 36 holes of stroke play with a score of 1-over-par 145, earning the No. 26 seed. But as their match-play wins piled up, so did their confidence.
“We’ve been preparing for this for a few weeks,” said Saldana, “and we [thought we] had a good chance of winning.”
For Floridians Weidenfeld, 18, of Pembroke Pines, and Bourdage, 19, of Tamarac, the loss was disheartening. They had hoped to avenge their 2019 championship-match loss to Erica Shepherd and Megan Furtney (both now at Duke University). It was triple disappointment for Bourdage, who also was the runner-up in the 36-hole final of the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior to current Stanford star Lei Ye at Sentry World in Stevens Point, Wis., where she barely missed a chance to force extra holes.
She joins a list of golfers who have gone 0-for-3 in USGA finals without a title, a group that includes 2021 USGA Bob Jones Award winner Bob Lewis Jr. (1980 U.S. Amateur and 1981 and ‘84 U.S. Mid-Amateurs), who recently died of cancer, Kerry Postillion (1997, 2005, ’07 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur) and Margaret Gavin (1915, ’19 and ’22 U.S. Women’s Amateur).
“Obviously, it’s not the best feeling in the world,” said Bourdage, “but that’s just what comes along with the game of golf. You’re either going to win or you’re going to lose. I was trying to take each shot one at a time and keep my head in the game for as long as I could.”
But the Ohio State freshman (Bourdage) and incoming Auburn University freshman (Weidenfeld) could never get anything going in the final after taking a 1-up lead on the opening hole with a birdie. Their downfall was four bogeys over a seven-hole stretch that began on No. 7. When Barber and Saldana took the lead for good with a par on the eighth hole, it was the first time all week that Bourdage and Weidenfeld trailed, a span of 75 holes.
A long birdie putt by Saldana on No. 10 pushed the lead to 2 up, and after the two sides matched birdies on the par-5 11th, Saldana and Barber won Nos. 12 and 13 with pars to go 4 up. Saldana closed out the match with a 16-foot birdie on the par-3 14th hole.
The semifinals earlier on Wednesday saw a championship first: two extra-hole battles. Bourdage and Weidenfeld saw their 4-up lead through 11 holes evaporate before finally surviving on the second extra hole, the par-5 11th at Maridoe, against top-seeded Paris Hilinski, 17, of Palm Beach, Fla., and 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Alexa Pano, 16, of Lake Worth, Fla. Hilinski and Pano posted winning pars on Nos. 12, 13 and 18 – the latter forcing extra holes – while adding a winning birdie on the par-5 16th.
Saldana and Barber also were taken to 20 holes before prevailing against co-medalists and No. 3 seeds Gianna Clemente, 13, of Warren, Ohio, and Avery Zweig, 14, of McKinney, Texas, who also happened to be the youngest side in the field. Clemente and Zweig rallied from a three-hole deficit to force extra holes.
What The Champion Side Receives
A gold medal
Custody of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Trophy for one year
Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships
Exemption for each player into the 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Westchester Country Club
Exemption into the 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Columbia Country Club
The 7th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship is scheduled for April 30-May 4, 2022, at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. It will be the first USGA championship contested in a U.S. territory.
Entries open for the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball during the week of May 31, 2021, and close on Aug. 11. For a list of announced qualifying sites, click here.
The two sides who lost in Wednesday morning’s semifinals receive exemptions to the next two U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships, while the runners-up get a three-year exemption.
The average age of the four semifinal sides was 16.7; the oldest being 19-year-old Jillian Bourdage and Gianna Clemente, 13, the youngest.
This was the second consecutive Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in which Alexa Pano fell in the semifinals. In 2019, she and partner Amari Avery – both of whom were featured in the 2013 Netflix documentary “The Short Game” – lost to eventual champions Erica Shepherd and Megan Furtney.
Savannah Barber has committed to attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 2022. Her partner, Alexa Saldana, 17, has yet to make a decision on college.
Alexa is not the only talented golfer in her family. Her older brother, Ari, is completing his freshman year at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, a NCAA Division III school in Belton, Texas, where he won the American Southwest Conference individual title.
This was Saldana’s second U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball start. She failed to qualify for match play in 2019 with partner Isabel Gutierrez Paillaud, also of Mexico.
Saldana had her Crown Golf Academy coach, Justin Pointer, on her bag this week. Due to COVID-19 protocols, other members of the academy could not attend the final.
With matching 4-and-3 wins in their first three matches before they completed their march to victory on Wednesday, Barber and Saldana matched the 2019 record of Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd for fewest holes needed by a champion (79) in winning their five matches. Alice Chen and Taylor Totland required 80 holes in their 2017 title run.
Bourdage was able to compete in this year’s championship because she took a redshirt season at Ohio State, where she is a freshman.
Casey Weidenfeld has already published two novels: “The Golden Flares” and “Mark of the Chosen” and is hoping to have a third published soon.
Weidenfeld, who plans to redshirt at Auburn University next season, and Bourdage hope to compete in the 2022 championship. NCAA regionals are scheduled to begin May 9, five days after the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball concludes.
The par-5 11th hole measured 445 yards for the championship match, after it played 518 yards for the semifinals. Bourdage and Weidenfeld won the hole twice in the morning with birdies (it was the second playoff hole); both sides birdied it in the final.