Kelli Kuehne, 17, of McKinney, Texas, dominated this championship from start to finish, and in the end, she earned the title with a 5 and 3 victory over Molly Cooper, of Tumwater, Wash., in the 18-hole-final.
The 46th U.S. Girls' Junior Championship was played at Meadow Lark Country Club, in Great Falls, Mont. Along with the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship which was being contested on the same dates several hours away in Bigfork, Mont., this marked the first time a USGA championship was held in Montana.
Kuehne used her superior length and experience to pull away from the 15-year-old Cooper. The match was all square when Kuehne made a 19-foot birdie on the par 4, 329-yard seventh hole to go ahead for good. From there, she went 2 up on No. 10 by holing a seven-footer for birdie, then took control of the match with a par on No. 12, where Cooper three-putted. A successful 15-foot birdie putt on No. 13 enabled her to go 4 up.
Kuehne, who was at least 30 yards longer off the tee, closed out the match on No. 15, a par 5. Cooper drove into the rough and a tree restricted her back swing. She punched out and finally settled for a six. Kuehne, meanwhile, was safely on the green in three strokes, and her first putt stopped inches short of a birdie. The concession was made and the match ended.
Kuehne, who was knocked out of this event in the semifinal round in 1993, admitted after the victory that thoughts about playing in the upcoming U.S. Women's Open, in Lake Orion, Mich., began to creep into her mind.
"I usually stay very focused, but I couldn't help thinking about next week. I hope I can play well enough to make the cut."
As it turned out, Kuehne didn't make the cut at the Women's Open. But the Kuehne family almost celebrated another victory during the summer when brother Trip, a student at Oklahoma State University, narrowly lost in the 36-hole final at the U.S. Amateur Championship.
Cooper, who a year ago was ousted after one win in match play, was pleased with her showing.
"I'm accustomed to other players outdriving me," she said. "I try to make up for it by chipping and putting well."
Kuehne advanced through the semifinal round with a 2 and 1 win over Rae Anna Staples, 14, of North Miami Beach, Fla. Staples had tied Julie Oh, of Torrance, Calif., for third place after medal play at 146, five strokes behind Kuehne's 141. Staples also played in the Women's Open, where she was the second youngest qualifier ever. Oh is the sister of Ted Oh, who played in the 1993 U.S. Open, at age 16.
In the lower half of the match play bracket, Cooper, who had qualified with a 153, defeated Anna Umemura, of Hilo, Hawaii, in her semifinal match, 2 and 1. Jenny Lee, of Fullerton, Calif., who led after the first day of stroke play and was just one stroke behind Kuehne with her qualifying score of 142, lost in the third round. Another player who lost in the third round was last year's medalist Cristie Kerr (144), of Miami, Fla.
A total of 213 entries were accepted for the championship. It was the fourth consecutive year in which entries topped the 200 mark.