By Bill Fields

At the ripe old age of 21, Sarah Burnham is one of the elder stateswoman in the Round of 32 at the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women’s Amateur

Sarah Burnham loves country music, and her status among the match-play qualifiers in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship was ripe for a tune.

Perhaps “Feeling Old at 21” would be appropriate, a song performed by her favorite artist, Dierks Bentley.

That certainly would have summed up Burnham and her Wednesday opponent at San Diego Country Club, Tatiana Wijaya: a pair of 21-year-olds who were among the oldest match-play qualifiers. (Maria Torres, 22, of Puerto Rico, was the oldest of the dozen golfers over 20 who advanced into the 64-player draw.)

Said Wijaya of the youthful field: “They are young, they are hitting the ball so far already, and they’re good. The standard has become higher.”

Burnham, of Maple Grove, Minn., and Wijaya, of Indonesia, played a tight match, the margin never greater than two holes. Despite a bogey-bogey finish, Burnham won, 1 up, to set up a Round-of-32 encounter with rising UCLA sophomore Lilia Kha-Tu Vu.

Competing in her fourth U.S. Women’s Amateur, Burnham, a rising senior at Michigan State University, advanced beyond the Round of 64 for the first time.

“I didn’t know anyone here, and now I pretty much know a lot of the field,” said Burnham of her evolution in the championship. “I think it’s really cool that the younger girls can compete with us. They usually have really good short games, which is very helpful for them.”

It was a bit of power that helped Burnham defeat Wijaya. The back-and-forth contest was all square after the Minnesotan won the par-4 15th hole with a par. Then, on the 525-yard, par-5 16th hole, Burnham reached the green with a 250-yard 3-wood second shot and two-putted for a birdie to go 1 up.

“That was a big hole for me,” said Burnham, who nearly squandered her advantage on No. 17 when she was too timid on a 50-foot birdie putt and it rolled back to her feet. She had to scramble for a bogey, making an 8-foot putt, but halved the hole when Wijaya also three-putted.

Burnham gave Wijaya another opening on No. 18 when she was still in the trees left of the fairway after two shots. But Wijaya hit her approach from the fairway into a bunker and made a bogey. Burnham hit her fourth shot, a 54-yard wedge, 3 feet from the flagstick and made the putt for a 5 and victory.

“I felt a little pressure there,” Burnham said of her mindset after her poor putt on the 17th. “But I knew she was kind of in the same situation. I was kind of lucky that she bogeyed the same two holes I did finishing. But that’s how match play works. The pressure is on when it counts.”

Regardless of how she fares the rest of the championship, the Midwesterner is going to enjoy her surroundings.

“I really enjoy the weather here,” Burnham said. “August is really nice at home, but the other day it was 50 degrees and raining. It’s nice to have the same nice weather every day and no bad conditions. It’s a treat.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.