Farmington • One more missed putt, and BYU golfer Lila Galeai would have walked away from Oakridge Country Club wondering why so many birdie opportunities got away and cost her a victory in Thursday’s final match of the 115th Women’s State Amateur.
One made putt changed everything. Galeai’s birdie on No. 17 extended her duel with Lone Peak High School senior Berlin Long, and she just kept going. A winning par on No. 18 and a rather routine birdie on the first extra hole (the par-5 No. 1) gave her the title.
“I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Galeai said afterward, and she was right. She’s the first champion who required extra holes since the Utah Golf Association’s return to match play for the Women’s Am in 2011. And no one ever had to win five matches, thanks to the bracket’s expansion to 32 golfers.
Galeai once topped Long to win the Girls 13-14 division of the Utah State Junior Amateur at Oakridge. Four years later, this victory took a lot more work. Galeai’s rally from 2 down with two holes to play continued the theme of the tournament’s late stages. Comebacks had given both finalists surprising victories Wednesday, including Galeai’s going 19 holes vs. Tess Blair and Long’s winning Nos. 16, 17 and 18 to overtake four-time champion Kelsey Chugg in the semifinals.
Galeai is the third 18-or-younger golfer in four years to win the Women’s State Am, following Blair and Grace Summerhays – who didn’t defend her title this week, instead playing in an American Junior Golf Association invitational in New Jersey. The difference is Galeai already played a spring season of college golf, having joined the Cougars after graduating from Lehi High School in December.
That experience helped Thursday. “My game really has changed since going into college,” Galeai said. “I’ve limited my mistakes, minimized my misses, and I think that was a big key for this tournament.”
Yet until the last two holes of regulation, the developing story was how the short-game performance of Long, who has committed to play for BYU in 2022, kept her ahead of the long-hitting Galeai. Long went 1 up when a 9-iron approach shot gave her a conceded birdie on the par-4 No. 10 and she won the par-3 No. 15 by saving par from a bunker.
Still 2 down going into the par-4 No. 17, Galeai gave herself the same instruction as Wednesday, when she nearly drove the green on a hole playing about 350 yards. “I just told myself, ‘Hey, knock the heck out of the ball and see where it goes,’ and it went good,” Galeai said.
Playing without a caddie this week, Galeai said, “I did a lot of talking to myself, and it probably looked weird, but it worked.”
An excellent pitch shot to within 6 feet set up her birdie, and her firm, confident stroke made up for a tough morning on the greens. “I got frustrated a little bit,” she said. “I had so much adrenaline in me, I couldn’t feel my hands, so it was hard to judge putts and how hard I was hitting it.”
Long then bogeyed No. 18 after hitting her second shot out of the rough into a bunker. “Just caught it a little chunky,” said Long, whose third shot barely escaped the sand, before she almost chipped in for a par to win the match.
“I hit it right where I wanted to and thought it had a really good chance,” Long said. “It’s kind of a bummer, but …”
So they went to No. 1, where Galeai finally took full advantage of her length. A drive down the right side left her 215 yards from the hole, and she hit a 4-iron to 40 feet to set up her first birdie of the day on a par-5 hole. After Galeai’s nice lag putt, Long missed her birdie attempt from 35 feet and conceded the victory.
Three weeks ago at Soldier Hollow Golf Course, Long lost in the Girls 15-18 final match of the State Junior Amateur as Sunbin Seo birdied the 18th and 19th holes. “Definitely very similar,” Long said. “I came up a little short in both of them, but I played good golf both weeks the whole time, so I can’t be too mad about it.”
Galeai could feel even more satisfied, having talked herself into a meaningful victory.