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AUGUSTA, Mo. (AP) — Erica Shepherd won the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship on Saturday, beating Jennifer Chang 3 and 2 a day after reaching the 36-hole final on her opponent's rules violation.
The 16-year-old Shepherd, from Greenwood, Indiana, ended the title match against close friend Chang with a tap-in par on Boone Valley's par-3 16th hole.
"Ever since I was little, I've always told everyone when making my goals, this is the goal that I have to accomplish," said Shepherd, the left-hander who has verbally committed to attend Duke in 2019.
On Friday, Shepherd beat Elizabeth Moon of Forrest City, Arkansas, on the first extra hole when Moon was penalized for moving her ball before her short par putt was conceded. After missing a short birdie putt that would have ended the semifinal match, the 17-year-old Moon reached across the hole and pulled her ball back with her putter before Shepherd had an opportunity to concede the par putt. The action resulted in the loss of the hole and the match.
The 17-year-old Chang, from Cary, North Carolina, pulled Shepherd aside Saturday before they stepped to the first tee.
"I was on the putting green, and she just walked toward me and gave me a hug," Shepherd said. "She just asked if I was OK, and I kind of broke down and started crying, then she gave me this whole speech about like how there was nothing I could have done about it, and that just really boosted me back up and got me to regroup."
Said Chang: "I said, 'Forget about that. Let's have some fun. Just you and me, one-on-one. Let's go for it.'"
Shepherd was inspired by friend and mentor Leigh Anne Hardin Creavy, the winner 19 years earlier. Shepherd's middle name is "Leigh" in honor of Creavy.
"I have her as my (screen) background holding the Girls' Junior trophy to try to motivate me to do that," Shepherd said.
Shepherd heard from Creavy before the championship match.
"She just told me she knew how I felt because she can relate to me caring too much about what other people think," Shepherd said. "She told me to just be Erica, and to not let what other people were saying get in my head or distract me."
Shepherd became the second left-handed female champion in USGA history, joining fellow Julia Potter — fellow Indiana player who won the 2013 and 2016 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur titles.
Chang has verbally committed to attend Southern California in the fall of 2018.
The finalists earned spots in the U.S. Women's Amateur at San Diego Country Club on Aug. 7-13.