As dawn broke in Asia on consecutive Sundays in July, golf history was being made by a pair of teenagers an ocean away. Sports fans in the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines awoke on those days to stunning USGA championship results in the United States.
It was still Saturday afternoon on the West Coast when Fumie (Alice) Jo and Princess Mary Superal accomplished what no other golfer from their two countries had achieved in 114 years of USGA championships.
Jo, 15, captured the 38th and final U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., becoming the first player from the People’s Republic of China to claim a USGA title. One week later, on the Meadow Course at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz., Superal, 17, won the 66th U.S. Girls’ Junior to become the first player from the Philippines to garner a USGA championship.
Two countries, not known for having a golf pedigree, continued the globalization of the game.
“This is really, really big,” said Anthony Lopez, the coach of the Philippines national women’s golf team. “I have what seems like 1,000 texts on my phone right now. I can’t even think about this. I’m just so happy for this girl.”
Lopez was on the verge of tears after Superal completed her 37-hole victory over Marijosse Navarro, 17, of Mexico. It had been a marvelous week in northern Arizona for Lopez and his small contingent of Filipina golfers, four of whom qualified for match play, with three reaching the Round of 16.
Momentum had been building for Superal. Two years earlier at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., she had missed the match-play cut in the Girls’ Junior. Later that summer, however, she finished as runner-up in the Women’s Trans-Mississippi Championship in South Carolina, a sign of her potential.
Quiet by nature, Superal remained calm but confident throughout the championship match. She birdied the 36th hole to force extra holes, and when Navarro found the water with her second shot on the par-5 37th hole, Superal finished off the victory.
“I was just texting her mom and sister who are in San Diego,” said Lopez afterward. “Last night I almost told them to drive over here for today but I didn’t want to jinx anything.”
Added Superal: “I really didn’t expect it. I feel very, very proud.”
Jo provided another example of the giant strides being made by Chinese golfers. With golf added to the Olympic program for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after an absence of more than 100 years, countries such as China are devoting more resources to development.
In 2012, Andy Zhang became the youngest U.S. Open qualifier at 14 years, 6 months. A year later, Tianlang Guan, also 14, became the youngest player invited to the Masters after his 2013 victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur. Guan managed to make the 36-hole cut.
On the female side, Shanshan Feng became the first player from China to win a professional major with her victory in the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Jo is not on the Chinese national team because it would require her to leave school and train full-time. She spent the summer of 2013 competing in American Junior Golf Association events, with the hope of earning enough points to be eligible for the circuit’s top invitational tournaments in 2014. Once she achieved that goal, she went one step further in 2014: competing in USGA championships.
She made a brilliant run through the match-play draw at The Home Course, despite little fanfare. By the time Jo reached the final against Eun Jeong Seong, 14, of the Republic of Korea, people started to get to know her. The ninth-grader speaks English well, thanks to her academic regimen at the Xiwai International School in Shanghai.
Her golf game also translates well, as demonstrated by her 3-and-2 triumph in the 36-hole championship match.
“In China, I think everyone will be talking about [my victory],” said Jo, whose mother, Joy, accompanied her on the summer-long sojourn in the U.S., which included stops in California, Arizona, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. “I’m just really happy.”
Jo was among a group of golfers from Yani Tseng International/China who were visiting the U.S. Backed by Tseng, a five-time major champion and winner of the 2004 WAPL, the organization runs a golf academy and sponsors a series of competitions. General manager Kai Chang made a last-minute trip to Washington to see Jo play the final match.
He was rewarded with a deft display of ball-striking, putting and poise.
“Alice is the top golfer in our program,” said Chang. “[She] is the best right now, but there will be others. They are gifted athletes, and they are receiving the very best training. Winning this championship, it’s true that Alice will be a national hero.”
Jo called it the “greatest day of my life.” A few days after winning the biggest title of her fledgling golf career, Jo flew to Los Angeles, where she was able to make a trip to Universal Studios with fellow academy members.
“They went [during the WAPL], so I was like, I have to get there,” she said. “If I got to the finals, everyone would go again with me.”
Superal, who went on to represent the Philippines in the Women’s World Amateur in September in Japan, had a similar post-championship itinerary. She and her group made the drive from Flagstaff to their summer home base in Southern California, where they also visited Universal Studios.
No matter what part of the world a teenager hails from, some things are just … universal.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.