PITTSBURGH (UK Athletics) – Kentucky women’s golfer Jensen Castle will be playing in the U.S. Women’s Open in June.
The sophomore is headed to the 2021 national championship after finishing in second place at a sectional qualifier at Shannopin Country Club in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Castle defeated professional Rachel Rohanna on the second playoff hole to clinch one of two spots from the Pittsburgh sectional. Overall, Castle shot 1-under par in the 36-hole qualifier. By finishing in the top two, Castle will now head to the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, which will be held June 3-6 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
“I am so excited for this opportunity and I cannot wait to compete at The Olympic Club next month,” Castle said. “However, I am even more excited to play in NCAA Regionals with my teammates next week. I would not have made it here without them. They make me a better golfer and a better person.”
After Castle fired a 2-under-par 69 in the first 18 holes, it was essentially a 10-person battle for the coveted two qualifying spots on the second 18. Ten women, including Kentucky teammate Marissa Wenzler, were within five shots of one another, and it came down to the very end to decide the final spot after Allie White separated herself with a score of 5-under par.
Castle was among the early finishers and had to sweat out the outcome with several of her competitors still on the course. At one point, Wenzler took over sole possession of second place but bogeyed six of the final 11 holes to fall out of contention and finish three strokes back of the second-place tie.
Castle thought she may have missed her opportunity with three bogeys on her final four holes, but as pressure mounted, the top of the leaderboard shuffled and Castle found herself with a chance at a crowning achievement.
The sophomore faced a tester on the first playoff hole. With Rohanna essentially in with a birdie from two feet away, Castle knew she had to make a four-footer for birdie and force another playoff hole. She did, moving on to No. 9 for the second playoff hole.
Rohanna ran into trouble on the par-4 ninth hole and Castle took advantage. Needing two putts to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, Castle calmy two-putted to become the second Wildcat in the 11-year Golda Borst era to qualify for the national championship. Anna Hack (2015-17) qualified in 2016. Former UK women’s golfer Mallory Blackwelder (2007-09) competed in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open but did not play for Borst.
“Wow, it was great to follow Jensen and Marissa’s qualifier today,” Borst said. “They both got off to strong starts in the first 18 holes and I am so proud of them both for how they handled everything today.
“Jensen is such a strong player, mentally and physically. She has struggled some this year on the course, and I am just so happy for her that she was able to secure a spot today to the Open. She plays the game with such heart and grit and she will only get better as her game continues to get stronger and more versatile. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Jensen truly is one of the hardest working and most coachable players we have ever had. She is a sponge and brings great attitude to every practice, every day. It is no surprise to me that she qualified today. She never stops working, and when her confidence is rising, watch out.”
The sectional qualifier in Pittsburgh is one of 22 U.S. Women’s Open qualifying tournaments that are taking place until May 13 for the 76th U.S. Women’s Open field. Other current Wildcats Wenzler, fifth-year senior Sarah Shipley, seniors Rikke Svejgård Nielsen and Sarah Fite, juniors Ryan Bender and Casey Ott and freshman Laney Frye all competed in various qualifiers across the country over the last week.
All sectional qualifiers are 36-hole, stroke play tournaments. The number of spots into the U.S. Women’s Open available at each sectional varies based on number of entries.
The U.S. Women’s Open is open to female professionals and amateurs with a Handicap Index not exceeding 2.4. The return to qualifying comes after play-in opportunities were canceled last year due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.
Since U.S. Women’s Open qualifying began in 1976, two champions have been crowned from the thousands who have attempted to play their way into the championship. Hilary Lunke became the first qualifier to win the U.S. Women’s Open in 2003 with an 18-hole playoff victory at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. Birdie Kim became the only other qualifier to win a U.S. Women’s Open with her stunning victory in 2005 at Cherry Hills Country Club.
The 76th U.S. Women’s Open will be the 11th USGA championship to be played on the Lake Course at The Olympic Club, including five U.S. Opens (1955, 1966, 1987, 1998 and 2012).
The championship began in 1946 and its winners include Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright, Hollis Stacy, Amy Alcott, Meg Mallon, Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Inbee Park and Michelle Wie West.
Castle and the Wildcats are still competing in the 2020-21 college athletics season. UK qualified for NCAA Regionals last week, Kentucky’s seventh postseason appearance in the 11-season Borst era. The Wildcats are one of 72 teams to make the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championships field, and starting Monday they will compete in the Columbus Regional at the Scarlet Course at the Ohio State University Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio. The low six teams from the Columbus Regional will advance to the national championships, to be held May 21-26 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, vs. the top six teams from each of the other three regionals.
Castle has been key in the 2020-21 success. She is second on the team with a 74.0 stroke average and two top-20 finishes, and UK has used 26 of her 27 rounds this season towards the team score.
Although Castle has been unable to match her 2019-20 campaign when she made the All-Southeastern Conference First Team and set a single-season program record with a 71.88 strokes per round, she has shown signs recently of returning to her record-setting freshman form. Just last week, Castle and Wenzler paired up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, where they advanced to match play and made it to the quarterfinals of the national tournament.
Although the U.S. Women’s Open will be the most high-profile tournament she has been a part of in her young career, Castle has significant major tournament experience. One of the top prospects out of high school in 2019, Castle has played in a number of major national tournaments, including last year’s 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.