Muni He is not calling this her breakout year in golf. She is far too modest for that. However, the numbers show that she has raised her game to an elite level through hard work and focus.
Just last fall, she was carding 80s as a sophomore at Torrey Pines High School – a scholastic girls’ golf powerhouse that has won five California state high school titles. This week, in the stroke-play portion of the 67th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, she posted scores of 67-69 for a 4-under 136, good enough for the No. 4 seed as the action shifted to match play.
He advanced through today’s Round of 64 with a 5-and-4 win over Simar Singh, of Los Altos, Calif. She won the first hole with a birdie and added two more birdies on holes 11 and 12. He lost only one hole in the match – No. 13 – before closing out her competition on the 14th hole.
“We had a pretty good battle on the front nine, and on the back nine, I just kind of took off,” said He, 16. “I made a few putts and got ahead, and I made birdies at the right time.”
As it turns out, the right time is now for the teenager who was born in Chengdu, located in the southwestern province of Sichuan in the People’s Republic of China.
Golf didn’t have the popularity in China that Muni would later enjoy in Southern California, but her father played the game and she began playing it to tag along with him. By age 5, she was playing in small competitions in China. By 7, she was competing in larger junior tournaments.
He’s family moved to Canada when she was just entering elementary school. After several years in Vancouver, they moved to San Diego.
“The weather is better there and there was much better competition in golf,” said He. “Moving to Southern California helped take my game to the next level.”
He’s family moved into a golf-course community in California, so her ability to practice was also more convenient. Soon, she began competing in San Diego and Southern California junior golf tournaments, followed by U.S. Kids’ Golf events, the Junior World Golf Championship and later, American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournaments.
“Once I started playing more on a national level, I began to see the difference between myself and the top players my age,” said He. “I was like, ‘Wow, if this is what I want to do well, I’d better start working on it.’”
So for the last year, He turned the focus to her short game and putting. Even in today’s first round of match play, when she drained a 15-foot putt to save par and win the ninth hole, it was the shot of confidence she needed to win four consecutive holes.
“The short game was really my weak point, so I think the improvements in scoring and performance [this year] have come from the amount of practice I’ve put into my putting,” said He, who will be a junior at Connections Academy in Los Angeles this fall, following her family’s most recent move there from the San Diego area.
He’s big year found a new gear in early May at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. She teamed with fellow Girls’ Junior competitor Angel Yin and reached the quarterfinals, where they lost in 21 holes to eventual champions Mika Liu and Rinko Mitsunaga.
Then, on June 2, He qualified for the 2015 U.S Women’s Open Championship. She was one of four amateurs to survive the 36-hole cut, playing all four rounds with scores of 68-74-73-73. By Sunday, she had tied 2013 USA Solheim Cup Team member Gerina Piller at 8-over 288, and finished two strokes behind LPGA stars and USGA champions Paula Creamer and Lexi Thompson.
“Honestly, the U.S. Women’s Open was probably the best week of my life,” said He, who was grouped with Creamer and I.K. Kim that week. “It had nothing to do with my performance – just the overall experience of being there. Playing in the Open showed me where I wanted to be in the future.”
He said she spent a lot of time at the Women’s Open watching the tempo of the pros and observing their course-management strategies. She played a practice round with World No. 1 and two-time Women’s Open champion Inbee Park. And as she practiced alongside the pros, she gained a better understanding of how to mentally prepare for the championship.
He has met LPGA winner and compatriot Shanshan Feng. She loves the style of Michelle Wie and calls teen LPGA pro Lydia Ko one of her idols in golf.
But the honors student believes she still has a lot of work to do before she can hopefully join those players on the LPGA Tour. She has verbally committed to play college golf at the University of Southern California in the fall of 2017, which will enable her parents – now residing near the Los Angeles campus – to watch her collegiate career.
“I think getting a college degree is very important,” she said. “I know a lot of girls are not going to college these days, but I truly think you need to go through that process to fully grow and mature and to become more prepared for the professional tour.”
She added, “I think college golf teaches you how to be a part of a team and how to take care of yourself. And it would be a goal to help my team win a national championship.”
But first things first.
He will face Annika Cedo of the Philippines in Thursday’s Round of 32 at the Girls’ Junior, her first USGA championship appearance. And already in a breakout season, He has learned she can reach a little deeper to play her best-ever golf.
“I think this year’s results are because I have matured over the past year,” she said. “Before, I was just a kid who was distracted by everything, so I think I’ve definitely grown up a little. I know what I want for my future and now I’m working hard for it.”