U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Bourdage, Ye Set to Square Off in 36-Hole Final at SentryWorld July 26, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

Lei Ye is pumped to be playing for the U.S. Girls' Junior title on Saturday at SentryWorld. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

What Happened

Perhaps it’s appropriate that a course with a Flower Hole will host the championship match of the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship featuring a Big Ten/Pacific-12 matchup.

Call it the USGA’s Rose Bowl for the under-19 female set.

Jillian Bourdage, 17, of Tamarac, Fla., who has committed to attend The Ohio State University in 2020, will face incoming Stanford University freshman Lei Ye, 18, of the People’s Republic of China, in Saturday’s 36-hole final.

RELATED CONTENT: Finalists' Tale of the Tape 

Bourdage, the last remaining player in the field with Wisconsin roots (her mom grew up in the Badger State), earned her spot in the final on Friday afternoon by knocking out medalist and No. 1 seed Yuka Saso, 18, of the Philippines, 2 up. Ye defeated incoming University of Tennessee freshman Nicole Whiston, 18, of San Diego, Calif., in the other semifinal, 3 and 2.

Bourdage, the No. 5 seed from stroke play, will be playing in her second USGA championship match of 2019, having lost with partner and fellow Floridian Casey Weidenfeld in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball final at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla., to incoming Duke freshmen Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd. Ironically, Ye, the No. 7 seed, also lost in a U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball final in 2018 at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., with partner Yu Chun Chang.

Now one of these players will be adding a USGA trophy to their mantle.

After four sun-splashed competition days, the competitors were greeted with some intermittent rain showers and winds in the 10-15 mph range. It was the first precipitation since Saturday’s powerful storm that forced the postponement of virtually the entire first official practice round.

Bourdage, who has not trailed in 83 holes of match play in her first U.S. Girls’ Junior appearance, saw a 2-up lead evaporate in the middle of the second nine with consecutive bogeys. With a chance to go 3 up with four to play, she three-putted the par-5 14th, missing a comebacker from 8 feet. Then on the par-4 15th hole, she failed to get up and down for par after Saso had stuffed her 9-iron approach to within 5 feet.

But on the par-4 17th, a hole Saso had only played once since the end of stroke play on Tuesday, Bourdage converted a 16-foot birdie putt during a brief downpour to take a 1-up lead.

“That one felt really good,” said Bourdage, who is 20 hours into gaining her pilot’s license. “I had a putt similar to that this morning [in my 2-and-1 quarterfinal win over Lauren Beaudreau] from I think around 12 feet for birdie. That's how I won my first match, too, so I knew the read on it, and I just had to trust myself and not blow it by six feet. I just had to get the pacing right on that one, and that felt extraordinary. I can't even describe the words how amazing it felt to make that putt.”

Jillian Bourdage (right) has enjoyed quite a homecoming this week with support from relatives who reside in Wisconsin. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

On 18, Bourdage executed a perfect 4-hybrid approach from 173 yards to within 6 feet to set up a birdie that was eventually conceded when Saso, No. 25 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), could not convert her downhill 10-footer for birdie.

“This week my confidence has grown with each round, and I'm just super happy to see that all my hard work has been paying off, especially on the short game and the putting, because I've been struggling with that a little bit for the past couple months,” said Bourdage, who is No. 838 in the WAGR. “I'm making some good putts out there under pressure, and that's definitely a confidence booster.”

Ye, No. 69 in the WAGR, jumped out to a fast start against Whiston, registering birdies on the first three holes for a 3-up advantage. A winning par on No. 4 and a birdie at the fifth by Whiston cut that deficit to 1 up, but that is the closest she would get. Ye won the eighth with a par and No. 11 with a short birdie putt to regain her 3-up lead. A winning par on the par-5 14th pushed the lead to 4 up with four to play. Whiston momentarily stayed in the match with a birdie at 15 before the match ended on the par-3 16th, the famous Flower Hole at SentryWorld, when both players tied with 3s.

“Definitely a lot easier than when I was only 1-up or 1-down at one point earlier this week,” said Ye. “You know, I think it's a little bit less pressure knowing that if I make good pars and make a birdie or two, that will be enough, that I'm not coming from behind and forced to make a bunch of birdies to make up for it.”

Earlier on Friday, Saso and Rose Zhang, No. 22 in the WAGR, produced a dramatic quarterfinal, with the former winning Nos. 17 and 18 for a 2-up victory. Zhang, who was outdueled by Saso in the Junior PGA Championship two weeks ago in Hartford, Conn., played 3-under golf, but had a costly three-putt bogey on the par-4 17th that gave Saso a 1-up lead. She had one more chance to possibly force extra holes, but her 9-foot downhill putt scooted past the hole and Zhang then conceded Saso’s 5-foot birdie.

“It was a slight misread,” said Zhang of her 8-foot par putt. “I didn’t play enough [break].”

Ye also survived a late rally from six-time U.S. Girls’ Junior competitor Brooke Seay, 18, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., 1 up. Ye holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and then watched Seay, a fellow incoming Stanford University freshman, miss from 5 feet. Seay, who was 3 down at one point won Nos. 14, 15 and 17 to tie the match.

What’s Next

The 36-hole championship match will begin at 6:30 a.m. CDT and resume again at 11:15 a.m. FS1 will broadcast live the afternoon 18 of the final between 1 and 3 p.m. CT.

Notable

  • Both finalists are now exempt into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. Saturday’s champion will also earn an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, as well as an invitation to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April.

  • Although exempt for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, quarterfinalist Rose Zhang is skipping the championship to represent the USA in the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Aug. 8-11, along with world No. 10 Emilia Migliaccio. The two American men competing are 2019 U.S. Open qualifier Brandon Wu and 2019 USA Walker Cup competitor and 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad.

  • This is the second time Yuka Saso has lost in the semifinals of a USGA championship. She reached the final four of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club. This was her best performance in four U.S. Girls’ Junior starts.

  • Lei Ye is bidding to become the second player from the People’s Republic of China to win a USGA championship. Alice (Fumie) Jo won the final U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2014 at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash. Yueer (Cindy) Feng fell in the championship match of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur to Emma Talley at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) and last week Bo Jin lost to Preston Summerhays in the U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

  • Ye switched caddies for the semifinals, going to Zhang after using University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point golfer Claire Tomczik for the first 4.5 days of the championship. Zhang, who has committed to attend Stanford, is one of Ye’s close friends. “It definitely helped. I walked in, saw her eating lunch. I'm just like, ‘Hey, would you want to caddie for me?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah.’ So that's how it came about. I worked great with my caddie from this week so far, but just Rose having played the course definitely knows it a little bit better, and she's got like a player's point of view, too, so it was really good just being able to confirm some of the stuff that I was thinking.”

  • Despite some of the early upsets, three single-digit seeds reached the semifinals led by medalist Saso. Jillian Bourdage was seeded fifth and Ye was the No. 7 seed. Nicole Whiston, at No. 46, was the lone outlier.

  • Between 300-500 spectators came out for the afternoon semifinals, many associates from Sentry Insurance, whose worldwide headquarters are across the street from the course. Company officials gave its employees half the day off to watch the action.

Quotable

“I forgot about the [U.S. Women’s Open] exemption, but obviously just the whole experience I've had this week, it's just been amazing, and the thought of winning has crossed my mind, but I can't think that far ahead right now, I've just got to think one shot at a time, and as of now I'm just thinking about that first tee shot.” – Jillian Bourdage on playing for the title and the major exemption that goes to the champion

“Sometimes I would like to think yes, but most of the time no, I really just tried to block it out, and once I'm over the ball, I really zoned into what I'm doing, and I don't really hear any people moving in the background, I don't see anyone moving, it's just me and the ball. I don't think the rain really affected me that much. I'm from Florida, too, so it rains a lot.” – Bourdage on playing through the intermittent downpours, including when she was on No. 17 against Saso

“I mean, I've been hitting it good all week, so … I'm pretty confident in that. I have been putting quite well the last two days, so I think most important I'm going to tell Rose her job tomorrow [as my caddie] is just to keep me relaxed, chat with me and have fun out there. She's going to go do her homework tonight. And if I just keep relaxed, have fun playing golf, I know the shots will go where they need to go.” – Lei Ye on her mindset for the championship match.

“Overall, she was just playing great golf. I had to keep up with her in the beginning. But overall, I tried out there. I had a couple clutch putts that unfortunately I missed, but I think that's the game of golf. I'm rooting for Yuka. She's a great friend.” – Rose Zhang on her 2-down defeat to good friend Yuka Saso

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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