Yealimi Noh gained control of the 43rd Girls Junior PGA Championship during the second round and never looked back.
The 16-year-old from Concord, California, showcased a dominating performance at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Kentucky, en route to a convincing four-stroke victory. After rounds of 66-65-64, Noh finished with a final-round 3-under 69 to close at 24-under 264, setting the record for the Championship’s lowest 72-hole tally. All this comes just one year after finishing runner-up in the 2017 Championship.
Last year’s winner Rose Zhang finished with a solo second place at 20-under 268 (68-67-67-66), matching her total from 2017.
“Last year I was close, but not quite there,” said Noh. “Coming into the week, I really wanted to win. I set my goals pretty high, so I’m really happy I was able to achieve them and that all the hard work over the past few weeks and months paid off.”
Noh collected 25 birdies this week and posted just one bogey, which transpired on her 66th hole of the Championship - Kearney Hill's par-3 12th.
“Before I went to sleep last night, I realized I went 54 holes without a bogey, which I’ve never done,” said Noh. “I kept thinking about it before the round, but once I started playing, the thought went away. When I did make the bogey, I told myself, ‘It’s only one bogey out of all those holes, so I’m good with it!’”
After improving by one stroke each round, Noh may not have played her best on Thursday. Yet, she still broke 70 with four birdies and bumped her total birdie count on par 5s to 13 for the week (out of 16).
“The front nine was a little bit frustrating because a lot of putts came up short,” said Noh. “You can never get too comfortable out there. Rose was playing really, really well so I needed to step it up. I was fortunate to make some birdies coming in.”
With the victory, Noh earned a berth onto the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team, which will be staged on September 24-25 at Disneyland Paris.
“In the beginning of the year, Junior Ryder Cup was the main goal,” said Noh. “After playing at Junior Solheim Cup last year, it was an incredible experience. Junior Ryder Cup will be so fun. I’m so excited.”
In addition, provided she maintains amateur status, Noh also qualified for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship held next April.
Zhang carded her best round of the 2018 Championship on Thursday with a 6-under 66, finishing with a consecutive 20-under-par score at the Girls Junior PGA Championship. Grouped with Noh on Thursday, Zhang acknowledged the magnitude of her friend and playing partner’s performance.
“To shoot 20-under once is already a very great score, and to do it again this year is special,” said Zhang. “To see Yealimi play so well, it’s a great honor. 24-under is such an amazing score. I have no words. She’s a very great player and I’m very happy for her to accomplish this.”
A birdie on the 18th hole secured the Irvine, Calif., resident a spot on the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team as well, edging out third-place finisher, Alexa Melton of Covina, Calif., by one stroke.
“To make the team at this tournament, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” said Zhang. “I’m honored to represent the U.S. Team.”
Melton, who posted the Championship’s lowest-ever 18-hole score on Monday with a 63, finished in style with eagles on the par-5 14th and 18th, as well as birdies on 16 and 17. A 19-under 269 secured a solo third place.
Thirteen-year-old Alexa Pano (70-64-70-67-271) from Lake Worth, Florida, and Greenwood, Indiana’s Erica Shepherd (65-67-72-69-273) rounded out the top five.
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