When 19-year-old South Korean prodigy Inbee Park lifted the first of her seven major championships at the 2008 US Women’s Open, she became the tournament’s youngest ever champion.
Bella Simões would not be born for around another six years. On Tuesday, she attempted to qualify for the major.
At nine years old, the Brazilian is the youngest player ever to attempt qualification to the tournament, set to tee off at California’s acclaimed Pebble Beach course for the first time in its 78-year history in July.
Simões hit the very first shot of her qualifying group at The Club at Mediterra in Naples, Florida. An impeccable swing technique – posted to the USGA’s Twitter account – drew plenty of plaudits.
Yet that should come as no surprise given Simões’ already-impressive résumé. A US Kids Golf World champion for the under-seven’s category in 2020, she defended her title a year later before clinching another victory in the eight-year-olds competition in 2022.
It’s a youth tournament with pedigree: World No. 7 and 2014 Chevron Championship winner Lexi Thompson was twice a champion before she became one of the game’s elite players.
Thompson became the youngest golfer ever to qualify for the US Women’s Open when she – at 12 years old – made it to the 2007 edition of the major.
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Simões still has a few attempts left to usurp that title but will have to wait at least another year after finishing tied-59th in the 67-player field. The Brazilian shot 23-over par, as two players – Lindy Duncan and Brooke Matthews – secured automatic qualification with scores of 10-under and 8-under respectively.
The USGA announced a record number of entries for July’s championship, with 2,107 applicants from 47 US states and 62 countries dwarfing the previous record of 1,874 set last year, when Minjee Lee went on to clinch victory at Pine Needles.
Players must have a handicap index of 2.4 or below, or be a professional, to attempt qualification. Several groups are exempt and receive an automatic invitation, including the last 10 champions and the top 75 players in the world rankings.
Kimberly Williams, a 60-year-old pro from Bethesda, Maryland, was the oldest player to attempt qualification this year, according to the USGA.