(Photo by Kathryn Riley/USGA)
Yana Wilson experienced first hand how the top-ranked amateur in the world handled herself last year.
During the 72nd U.S. Girls’ Junior at Columbia Country Club in Maryland, Wilson fell to then-No.1 amateur Rose Zhang in the match play quarterfinals. Wilson then stayed an extra day and watched Zhang capture the championship.
“I wanted to watch her in the finals,” Wilson said. “And I told myself I was going to win this thing (this year).”
It’s safe to say the motivation paid off.
Wilson captured the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior championship at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Saturday. The 15-year-old beat Gianna Clemente 3 and 2 in the 36-hole final.
“It’s amazing. I just really want to thank Rose for that because she taught me a lot last year,” said Wilson. “I’m just really happy to be here right now.”
Zhang, who captured the NCAA individual title as a freshman at Stanford this spring, showed Wilson what it took to win on the biggest stages.
And that’s what Wilson, a native of Henderson, Nevada, needed.
After the first 18 holes, Wilson led Clemente 1 up, but she proceeded to bogey three of four holes after a lunch break. Thanks to a birdie on the par-3 third hole to win it, Wilson and Clemente were tied after 22 holes. Clemente, a 14-year-old from Estero, Florida, birdied the par-4 fifth hole to take a 1 up lead, which she held for the next three holes.
Wilson proceeded to birdie the par-5 ninth hole, bringing the match to all square with nine holes to play. Wilson won the 10th after a Clemente bogey, then Wilson made birdie on the par-3 13th to go 2 up with five to play.
Both girls drove over the short par-4 14th, but neither were able to get up and down for birdie. On the 15th, Clemente lipped out a birdie putt while Wilson connected, going 3 up with three to play.
On the par-3 16th, Wilson’s tee shot came up short and right while Clemente’s trickled over the back of the green but closer to the pin. Wilson’s first putt settled a couple feet from the hole. Clemente hit a great putt, but it came up inches short of dropping for birdie to extend the match. Wilson sunk her short putt to win the United States Golf Association championship.
“I knew I was more of a back nine player, and I knew I would come back,” Wilson said of her slow start on the second 18 holes.
Both Wilson and Clemente have earned exemptions into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington.
Clemente joked after the match she needed to work on her putting, but she said this week was a valuable learning experience.
“I beat some amazing players this week in stroke play and match play,” Clemente said. “I just didn’t make enough putts today and hit enough greens.”
For Wilson, she also earned an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
“Nothing has really sunken in yet, but that honestly sounds unreal,” Wilson said. “I’m so excited.”