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 US Girls’ Junior Championship reached the 36th green at SentryWorld. All that stood between Bourdage, 17, of Taramac, Fla., and extra holes was five 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 three-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 US 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 US Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.
RIGHT: Ye defeated Bourdage at the 71st US Girls’ Junior Championship. PHOTO: Zhe Ji/Getty Images.
Ye played the equivalent of four-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 six feet from the flagstick and she calmly converted.
"On 17 I saw her hit it left, and I thought it might have gone in the water (the ball stayed dry),” Ye said. “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 five 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 three feet.
“I was trying to make that 50-footer. It's not impossible,” Ye said. “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,” Bourdage said. “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 US 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.”
“This tournament is the ultimate achievement of junior golf, so yeah, it's been a perfect ending.” – Lei Ye
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 10-25mph with the highest recorded gust at 22mph. In other words, an idyllic day to play a championship match.
Ye, also a past US 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 three-up lead at the lunch break. She won five of seven holes from the par-5 9th – a stretch that began with a six-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 six-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 six and nine 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 two feet on the par-5 27th, only to see Bourdage answer with a six-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 four feet from the hole.
It set the stage for a dramatic finish.
- United States Golf Association