U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Ye Defeats Bourdage in Thrilling Final at SentryWorld July 27, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

Lei Ye, of China, will add her name to the illustrious list of champions on the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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What Happened

Seven times in the 36-hole championship match on Saturday, Jillian Bourdage managed to win a hole after losing the previous one to opponent, Lei Ye.

An eighth seemed imminent as the final of the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship reached the 36th green at SentryWorld. All that stood between Bourdage, 17, of Taramac, Fla., and extra holes was 5 feet.

She stroked what she thought was a perfect putt. But this time, the ball trailed off to the left at the very end, sending Bourdage to her knees in disbelief.

Ye, 18, then stepped up and converted her 3-foot par putt to secure a 1-up victory, becoming the second player from the People’s Republic of China to win a USGA championship.

“This tournament is the ultimate achievement of junior golf, so yeah, it's been a perfect ending,” said Ye, who played her final junior competition this week.

“That last putt, though it was three feet, I was definitely nervous. It's a big putt. I just told myself, you've practiced this thousands and thousands of times, you could do it in your sleep.”

An incoming freshman at Stanford University, Ye joins 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links winner Alice (Fumie) Jo as the only players from China to claim a USGA championship. The No. 69 player in the Women’s Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) also is the 13th international player to have her name engraved on the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy, joining the likes of major champions Inbee Park (Korea), Ariya Jutanugarn (Thailand) and I.K. Kim (Korea).

Other names on the trophy include World Golf Hall of Famers Mickey Wright, JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Nancy Lopez, Hollis Stacy and Amy Alcott as well as modern-day stars Lexi Thompson and Minjee Lee.

With the victory, Ye also earned an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.

Ye played the equivalent of 4-under-par golf, with the usual match-play concessions, over the 36 holes.

No birdie was bigger than the par-4 35th hole. Ye took an aggressive line off the tee on the dogleg-right, leaving just 105 yards to the flagstick. Her approach with a gap wedge stopped 6 feet from the flagstick and she calmly converted.

Name Year Country
International U.S. Girls' Junior Champions
Sandrine Mendiburu 1990 France
Aree (Song) Wongluekiet 1999 Thailand
Nicole Perrot 2001 Chile
Inbee Park 2002 Republic of Korea
Julieta Granada 2004 Paraguay
In-Kyung Kim 2005 Republic of Korea
Jenny Shin 2006 Republic of Korea
Doris Chen 2010 Chinese Taipei
Ariya Jutanugarn 2011 Thailand
Minjee Lee 2012 Australia
Princess Mary Superal 2014 Philippines
Eun Jeong Seong 2015-16 Republic of Korea
Lei Ye 2019 People's Republic of China

“On 17 I saw her hit it left, and I thought it might have gone in the water (the ball stayed dry),” said Ye. “I mean, it didn't change too much how I was going to approach that shot because it was 105 yards, which is a wedge shot, which I have been hitting well this week, so I just thought that I'd land it about 100 [yards], a couple yards right on that slope and have it carry it down towards the flag.”

On the 36th hole, Bourdage, playing first from the fairway, stuffed her 8-iron approach from 130 yards to 5 feet, getting a big applause from the 300 spectators gathered around the green. Ye’s second shot went to the back of the green, leaving her a 50-foot downhill putt that she deftly lagged to 3 feet.

“I was trying to make that 50-footer. It's not impossible,” said Ye. “I've made 50-footers before, you know. Yeah, [I was] hoping for a bit of a miracle there. It got pretty close. I gave it a pretty good chance. I guess it was a lot of pressure on her to extend that match with that five-footer.”

That set the stage for Bourdage to force extra holes.

“I think I just under-read it,” said Bourdage, “but I felt really good when I walked over the ball and my aim looked great from where I was standing. I just gave it my best shot, but that's golf sometimes. They don't all drop.”

For Bourdage, it was her second championship-match setback of 2019. In late April, she and fellow Floridian Casey Weidenfeld fell to Duke University incoming freshmen Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd in the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla.

Bourdage was also the last remaining player in the field with Wisconsin ties as her mom was born in Manitowoc, and she has other family living in Appleton. Two of her cousins attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“This means so much to me,” said Bourdage, who plans to attend Ohio State in 2020 and major in aviation management. She is 20 hours in to getting her pilot’s license. “And my family has been so supportive, they've been cheering me on all day and encouraging me, even though I had a rough start. But it's just nice that they're always by my side, and it's amazing to be here and get to spend time with them, too.”

A week ago, the competitors at SentryWorld were greeted with tornado warnings and strong storms that forced most of the first official practice round to be postponed. On Saturday, the players were greeted with sunshine, temperatures in the 80s and breezes from 10-25 mph with the highest recorded gust at 22 mph. In other words, an idyllic day to play a championship match.

Ye, also a past U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball runner-up (in 2018 at El Caballero Country Club with Ya Chun Chang), appeared as if she might turn the final into a runaway, grabbing a 3-up lead at the lunch break. She won five of seven holes from the par-5 ninth, a stretch that began with a 6-foot birdie on No. 9. While Bourdage answered with birdies on 11 and 13 to trim the deficit to one hole, a birdie on the par-5 14th and a winning par at 15 pushed Ye’s margin to three holes. Hole 15 proved to be Bourdage’s Waterloo all week, as she played the 383-yard, par-4 in 6 over par.

Bourdage, however, had chances to trim her deficit going into the break, only to miss good birdie chances at 16 and 18 from 6 and 9 feet, respectively.

After some lunch, Bourdage’s attitude changed for the afternoon 18. She took a more free-wheeling approach and by the 26th hole, the match was tied. While Ye never trailed coming home, her lead was never more than 1 up. She hit a beautiful wedge approach to 2 feet on the par-5 27th, only to see Bourdage answer with a 6-foot birdie on the par-5 28th.

Ye took No. 30 with a par when Bourdage failed to get up and down from a bunker, but lost the advantage two holes later on the par-5 32nd as Bourdage’s third shot with a wedge stopped 4 feet from the hole.

It set the stage for a dramatic finish.

What The Champion Receives

Here is what Lei Ye receives for winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior:

  • Custody of the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy for one year
  • A gold meda
  • Exemption into 2020 U.S. Womenl’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas
  • Exemptions into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., and 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.
  • Invitation to the 2020 Augusta National Women’s Amateur

Notable

  • Jillian Bourdage receives a silver medal and an exemption into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. She also is exempt into next year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at the Eisenhower Golf Course in Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Bourdage saw her streak of never trailing in the championship end on the first hole, a string of 83 consecutive holes.

  • Both finalists, Bourdage and Lei Ye, were sectional qualifiers for the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

  • Bourdage, who has committed to attend Ohio State in 2020, will see four current Buckeyes at next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur: Alanis Sakuma, Aneka Seumanutafa, Skylar Thompson and Alex Wright. Sakuma is an aviation management major, the same program Bourdage hopes to be accepted to in the coming months.

  • Ye will see several Stanford players at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, including fellow incoming freshman Brooke Seay, whom she defeated in the quarterfinals on Friday. Also in the field is 2016 runner-up and world No. 5 Albane Valenzuela, two-time USA Curtis Cup competitor Andrea Lee, and 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor and 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Mika Liu.

Quotable

“You know, China is definitely a growing player in the game, and I think winning this [championship] is definitely a huge achievement for us, and I know that it will inspire other juniors back home to work harder to play better. So I think being able to help grow the game back home, that's really cool.” – Lei Ye on what this victory means for young players back in China

“I think it's definitely a relief, especially knowing that the Women's Open qualifier is going to be around [NCAA] regionals, around finals … there's going to be a lot going on. So yeah, having that is really amazing. And the Augusta one, it's the golf course. It's the golf course to play around here, you know. So hopefully I can go back and do better this year [after missing the cut in April].” – Ye on having the pressure to qualify for big championships removed by winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior

“I loved it. You know, I came out here [last] Saturday, stepped on the putting green, and I told my mom, I told my coach, I love this green. The fairways were super nice, and they did the last 20, 30 yards of the fairway like they do in majors and stuff where they shaved it really close, and you could either putt it or run it up or just get creative around the greens. So I thought that was really cool.” – Ye on SentryWorld

“That's going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully I get paired with some of them, and I just want to have a blast out there.” – Jillian Bourdage on playing next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur with four current members of The Ohio State women’s golf team

“I tried not to put my expectations on myself going into this tournament. Usually I perform pretty well when I don't think too much about that and I just let my golf do the talking. I've definitely made a lot of breakthroughs in my game this week, and hopefully I can carry them forward into more future tournaments, so I'm very excited about that.” – Bourdage on her expectations this week after entering as the No. 868th player in the WAGR

“I just learned that I've just got to keep playing my own game and keep firing away, and sometimes you're going to have an amazing day, sometimes you're going to have an iffy day. But you've just got to keep plugging away and you've got to learn from every experience, so I definitely learned a lot out here this week, and I played against so many amazing people, and I'm just so honored to have made it this far and grateful to have been able to come to the U.S. Girls' Junior this year.” – Bourdage summarizing her week at SentryWorld

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

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