Seven players who could leave Missouri with a U.S. Girls' Junior title

This summer’s edition of the U.S. Girls’ Junior feels kind of like a restart. Eun Jeong Seong defended her title last year, and she became the first player in 45 years to do that, but she’s not in the field at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo. Along with the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the Girls' Junior presents the best shot for a junior to become a USGA champion as a teenager.

Here are seven players I have an eye on:

Lucy Li (2020)

What’s a Girls’ Junior when you’ve played in the U.S. Women’s Open at age 11? That was back in 2014, and now three years older (and high-school age, which seems hard to believe for the petite player), Li is making another Girls’ Junior start. Li’s fundamentals are already so smooth – she proved that back in 2014 – that she has the advantage of building her game on a very solid foundation. She won the Junior PGA title last summer and the ANA Junior Inspiration earlier this spring, so this would complete a nice junior trifecta.

Paphangkorn Tavatanakit (2017)

The last time the U.S. Girls’ Junior was played in the Midwest, at Olympia Fields Country Club just outside Chicago in 2011, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn took home the title. (Jutanugarn now is No. 2 in the Rolex Ranking.) I’m taking that as a good sign for Tavatanakit, also from Thailand. She’s No. 1 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, No. 3 in the Rolex AJGA Ranking, and finished third earlier this summer in the Rolex Girls Championship.

Lois Kaye Go (2016)

Here’s the odd Girls’ Junior competitor who has already completed a year of college. Go played her freshman season at Boston College this year, qualified to play in the NCAA Championship as an individual, then won the Women’s Porter Cup to start the summer. She transferred to the University of South Carolina at the end of her freshman season, but before she becomes a Gamecock, she’ll play one last junior tournament. Go leads the experience department, and also flies the Philippine flag. She’d be the first Filipino winner of the Girls’ Junior since Princess Mary Superal in 2014.

Erica Shepherd (2019)

Shepherd’s game and experience level have come a long way in the past year after she qualified for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open. She played most of last summer with a rib out of place, even though you’d never have guessed it watching her play, and between restored health this summer and a tenacious work ethic, has gained roughly 20 yards off the tee. This will be her third U.S. Girls’ Junior, and the Duke commit (who calls Blue Devil great Leigh Anne Hardin her godmother) also hit goals of qualifying for the AJGA’s Wyndham Cup team and the Junior Solheim Cup team this year. Shepherd’s swing coach Brent Nicoson, also the head coach at the University of Indianapolis, calls Shepherd the ultimate competitor who “does not want to lose to anybody at any time.” That drive will be a huge advantage in match play.

Kendall Griffin (2017)

The sweet-swinging LSU signee knows the USGA drill, having won medalist honors with partner Athena Yang at the inaugural U.S. Women’s Four-Ball in 2015. Griffin is long off the tee, and she has a knack for match play. She made the quarterfinals here last year, and also won the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Women’s Amateur.

Brooke Seay (2019)

An Annika Invitational victory was impressive to start the year, but Seay’s name carries more weight this month after her U.S. Women’s Open performance. Opening rounds of 73 at Trump National helped Seay make the cut on women’s golf biggest stage. She finished 79-76, good for a tie for 60th.

Mika Liu (2017)

Liu’s game is very tidy and her demeanor very collected. She won the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner Rinko Mitsunaga in 2015, won the South Atlantic Amateur (Sally) in 2016 and heads to Stanford this fall. A Girls’ Junior title would make for a nice junior-golf exit.