HINSDALE, Ill. – Martha Kuwahara, the first-round leader of the 97th Women’s Western Junior, already holds a place in golf history as a champion at Augusta National.

Kuwahara – who was born in Japan and now resides in Northbrook, Illinois – won the Girls 14-15 division of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals in 2023. Now, she holds a one-stroke lead after posting a 1-under 71 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying at Hinsdale Golf Club on Tuesday.

“That experience taught me that no matter the stage, I have to just aim for the middle of the green,” Kuwahara said. “If the green wants to give it to you, it’ll drop. It’s just luck sometimes.”

The greens both gave and took from Kuwahara on a rollercoaster ride through the par-72 layout. The 16-year-old got to 2-under through seven holes but four-putted on the par-4 eighth for double bogey and chipped across the green on the 10th, leading to a bogey.

“My caddie told me there were two short par 5s coming up on 11 and 12 and told me I’ve got this,” Kuwahara said. “I made some long putts for birdies and really trusted my caddie’s reads. He has six years of experience here, and he was really able to help me out today.”

After the birdies on Nos. 11 and 12, Kuwahara added another birdie on the par-5 17th. She made bogey on No. 18 to post 71, the lone score under par for the day.

“Last year, I came up just short of making match play at this event,” Kuwahara said. “I tried to forget about that and just made some good putts today. I think that’s the difference between this year and last so far.”

One shot back of Kuwahara at even par is Samantha Brown, another player who is no stranger to the big stage.

The 18-year-old from Westfield, Indiana, played in the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania last week. Brown recorded three birdies to erase three bogeys in her first round and made a 40-foot putt on her last hole to save par.

“I learned so much from last week, and that was probably the coolest experience of my golf career,” said Brown, a Purdue commit. “It definitely gave me a lot of confidence, but I tried to remember today that golf is not easy and you can’t get too ahead of yourself.”

Also tied for second at even par is Brown’s future Purdue teammate Lauren Timpf, an 18-year-old from Macomb, Michigan. Timpf posted two birdies and two bogeys in her round of 72.

“It’s definitely neat to see a couple Boilermakers near the top of the leaderboard,” Brown said. “We’re absolutely cheering each other on.”

Rounding out the five-way tie for second place at even par is Sophia Lin, a 16-year-old from Taiwan; Zoe Wynn, a 16-year-old from Irvine, California; and Caroline Owens, an 18-year-old playing in her hometown of Hinsdale.

Four players are tied in seventh at 1-over: Jiayi Yin, of Hong Kong; Jenna Madden, of McKinney, Texas; Hsin Tai Lin, of Taiwan; and Taylor Baker, of Sacramento, California.

Defending champion Suzie Tran, of Poulsbo, Washington, finished the day in a tie for 11th at 2-over. The 18-year-old Michigan commit is aiming to become the first player to repeat as champion since Monique Gesualdi in 2003.

Wednesday will feature an additional 18 holes of stroke-play qualifying before the field of 78 is cut to the low 16 players for match play. The winner this week will join past champions like Nancy Lopez, Candie Kung, Cristie Kerr and Grace Park and receive an exemption into the 2024 Women’s Western Amateur at Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest, Illinois, in July.

Attendance and parking at the Women’s Western Junior are free. For more information, visit womenswesternjunior.com.

For the full leaderboard, click here.

For tee times, click here.

WWGA and WGA Championships Hosted by Hinsdale Golf Club

  • 1937 Women’s Western Junior – Muriel Veatch, champion
  • 1934 Western Junior – Fred Haas, Jr.
  • 1924 Western Amateur – H.R. Johnson
  • 1916 Western Junior – John Simpson
  • 1914 Women’s Western Amateur – Mrs. H.D. Hammond
  • 1912 Women’s Western Amateur – Caroline Painter
  • 1907 Western Open – Bobby Simpson