U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
November 7, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis.
By David Shefter, USGA
When the International Olympic Committee announced in 2009 that it was bringing golf back to the Summer Games in 2016 following a 102-year hiatus, it opened the door for countries previously underserved by the game to launch development programs.
One of those nations was the People’s Republic of China. Although China might not yet be on the same level as Asian counterparts Japan and the Republic of Korea, the country is showing signs of becoming a major player. Shanshan Feng can count one major championship (the 2012 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship) among her 10 LPGA Tour victories. Also in 2012, 14-year-old Andy Zhang became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Open history.
And in 2014, Alice (Fumie) Jo won the final U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship to give China its first USGA champion.
The second was crowned in late July in the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at SentryWorld in Stevens Point, Wis. One week after China’s Bo Jin lost in the championship match of the 72nd U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Inverness Club in Ohio, Lei Ye, 18, held off Jillian Bourdage, of Tamarac, Fla., 1 up, in the 36-hole final.
“China is definitely a growing player in the game, and I think winning this is definitely a huge achievement for us,” said Ye, who first came to the U.S. in 2016 to attend a Florida-based golf academy. “I know that it will inspire other juniors back home to work harder. Being able to help grow the game back home, that's really cool.”
Ye and Bourdage, an aspiring pilot, both had already experienced a USGA final, albeit with a partner. Ye, an incoming Stanford University freshman, and Ya Chun Chang lost in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball final, while Bourdage and Casey Weidenfeld were the runners-up in the 2019 Four-Ball championship match.
Bourdage, 17, proved to be a stingy opponent. Seven times in the final, she managed to win a hole after losing the previous one to Ye. She appeared on the verge of making it eight on the par-4 36th hole after stuffing a hybrid approach to 5 feet. But Bourdage under-read the break and missed to the left. Ye, who had nearly converted a 50-foot birdie from above the hole, closed out the match by converting the most stressful 3-footer of her young career. One hole earlier, she had made a 6-foot birdie for a 1-up lead.
“This tournament is the ultimate achievement of junior golf,” said Ye, who became the 13th foreign-born champion to have her name engraved on the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy, while also earning an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club. “I just told myself [on that last putt], you’ve practiced this thousands and thousands of times, you could do it in your sleep.”
The most dominant player for most of the week was Yuka Saso, of the Philippines. The 18-year-old bested the field by five shots in stroke play (12-under 132) and continued her strong play into the semifinals before falling to Bourdage, 2 up.
Among those eliminated in the Round of 64 were two-time Drive, Chip & Putt champion Alexa Pano and 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Erica Shepherd. Grace Summerhays, whose brother Preston won the U.S. Junior Amateur a week earlier, reached the Round of 16 with her brother on the bag. Bo Jin’s sister, Jiarui, also qualified for match play, but lost in the Round of 64.
China, in fact, led the field’s international contingent with nine players, six of whom qualified for match play.
All the more reason to believe that Ye’s title might be a harbinger of things to come.
|Jillian Bourdage’s streak of never trailing in match play ended on the first hole of the final, a string of 83 holes.|
|Lei Ye is the 7th international champion in the last 10 years, a list that includes 2018 U.S. Women’s Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn (Thailand) and 5-time LPGA Tour winner Minjee Lee (Australia).|
|Medalist Yuka Saso lost in the semifinals of a USGA championship for the second time, having reached the final four of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur. This was her best finish in four U.S. Girls’ Junior starts.|
|Nine countries were represented in the Round of 32, led by the USA with 23 players. The People’s Republic of China had two, while Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong China, India, Mexico and Philippines each had one.|
|Yoona Kim, of Fairlawn, N.J., registered the lone hole-in-one of the week in her Round-of-64 match against Jennifer Koga, on the 173-yard 7th hole with a 23-degree hybrid. Kim won the match, 2 and 1.|