Making Herself at Home in Missouri July 26, 2017 | Augusta, Mo. By Lisa D. Mickey

Jennifer Chang, 17, was born in Missouri before settling in North Carolina, where she is a three-time state high school champion. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

She does not normally lean on her putting, but Jennifer Chang found the right formula in her Round-of-64 match Wednesday morning in the 69th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Boone Valley Golf Club.

Chang’s 8:18 a.m. match ended well before lunchtime with a 6-and-5 win over Julia Misemer of Overland Park, Kan.

Misemer was unable to win any holes, and Chang kept the pressure on with birdies on four of the six holes she won – including three consecutive holes after the turn.

“I’ve actually been struggling with my putting a lot lately, but I think if I just free myself up and not push myself too hard, I can definitely make some putts,” said Chang, 17, of Cary, N.C. “My putting was really good today.”

After making birdie putts from 1 foot, 24 feet and 18 feet on holes 10 through 12, Chang closed out the match with a par on No. 13.

“I’m pretty confident right now and I like where my game is,” said Chang, currently No. 96 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “I’ve been hitting the ball well and my putting has been really great this week.”

Chang was actually born in Springfield, Mo., where she and her family lived for 2½ years before moving to Ohio. They eventually moved to Cary, located in the Research Triangle area of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, where her father works in hardwood flooring and her mother works as a hair stylist.

Chang quickly became an integral part of her high school girls’ golf team at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, where she will begin her senior year this fall. The Jaguars, who won the state title in 2008 and 2009, competed in the 2014 state 4-A championship during Chang’s freshman year.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to go to the state championship [again] this year,” said Chang, who has won the individual state high school title for the last three years and was North Carolina’s 2015 Player of the Year. “I’d like to see us win one more time.”

Perhaps one of the biggest recent surprises in NCAA Division I women’s college golf is that Chang has committed to play collegiately at the University of Southern California. Chang lives within miles of three solid Atlantic Coast Conference golf programs. Duke, North Carolina State and UNC-Chapel Hill have no doubt had Chang on their radars since she was in the ninth grade.

When asked why a Triangle-area product is heading to the West Coast for college golf, Chang smiled.

“When I found out that USC was interested in me, my eyes were just locked on them,” she said. “There are certainly great schools on the East Coast, but I was kind of wanting to go to the West Coast, and USC was just the school where I wanted to go.”

Chang has relatives in California, and as a player of Korean heritage, she’s looking forward to trading in North Carolina barbecue for Korean barbecue in the famed Koreatown section of Los Angeles.

Her goal this week is to improve on her previous USGA championship performances. She competed in her first USGA championship at age 13, the 2013 Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. reached the Round of 32 in last year’s Girls’ Junior, and lost 3 and 2 in the semifinals of this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner Gina Kim.

“I lost in the Round of 32 last year [in the Girls’ Junior], so I definitely want to play better than I did in 2016,” said Chang, a 2015 and 2016 AJGA All-American. “But obviously, it’s just about one match at a time.”

Chang will face So Whi Kang of the Republic of Korea in Thursday’s Round of 32. The North Carolinian knows her road to the championship final will get tougher each day, but she also draws a tiny bit of comfort this week from the rolling hills of Missouri.

“I only lived here for a short time when I was really young, but this week, there’s a part of me that feels like I’m at home,” said Chang.

If her putter continues to be her friend, Chang will start feeling more and more at home.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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