Wilson Captures 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior Title at The Club at Olde Stone

Yana Wilson
Yana Wilson(Brett Alper)
Published: Jul. 23, 2022 at 10:03 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - It turns out Yana Wilson is pretty good at this match-play thing.

A week after going 3-0 in the American Junior Golf Association’s Wyndham Cup in leading the West to a resounding victory, the 15-year-old from Henderson, Nev., continued her recent unblemished mark in the head-to-head format by capturing the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at The Club at Olde Stone with a 3-and-2 victory over Gianna Clemente, 14, of Estero, Fla., in Saturday’s 36-hole final.

Wilson, a quarterfinalist in last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior (she fell to eventual champion and world No. 1 Rose Zhang), went 6-0 in match play over the past four days in extreme heat and humidity – the heat index on Saturday reached the low triple digits – to add her name to the pantheon of legendary champions who have etched their names on the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy.

The title also comes with an exemption into the 78th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica next July at iconic Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. A number of U.S. Women’s Open champions have won the U.S. Girls’ Junior, including Mickey Wright, JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Hollis Stacy, Amy Alcott, Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn and last month’s champion, Minjee Lee.

“It means a lot,” said Wilson, a two-time 12-13 age-group Drive, Chip & Putt champion. “Today I looked at the boards that [the USGA put up] walking up to hole 1, and I saw a lot of the girls who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior had won the U.S. Open, and they have really just become legends. Hopefully one day I can join them.”

The rising high school junior has already built quite a résumé, including a walk-off victory over Anna Davis to win the Annika Invitational in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year when she holed a 75-yard wedge shot on the first playoff hole. That made Wilson 10 of 11 in playoffs, a statistic she said has made her a tough out in match play. In 2020 at age 14, she won the Joanne Winter Arizona Silver Belle, becoming the youngest champion in an event that dates to 1971.

“Honestly, I try not to get affected by little things,” said Wilson, “and I feel like sometimes the opponents that I play against are really fiery, and if stuff doesn’t go their way they get upset. I feel like I’m just a very steady player.”

No more so than in the afternoon portion of the final. Trailing 1 down on the 26th green, Wilson had a golden chance to tie up the match, but badly pulled her putt. But she didn’t let the setback affect her attitude. And on the next hole, a par 5, she two-putted from 50 feet for a winning birdie. When Clemente failed to get up and down for par from a greenside bunker at the par-4 28th hole, Wilson took the lead for good. Down the stretch, she converted several putts of 6 feet or less to tie or win holes.

Clemente, who in 2019 became the third-youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, never got her putter going. At least not like Friday’s semifinal when she converted eight birdies in an impressive 6-and-5 win over Maria Jose Marin, of Colombia.

On Thursday morning in the Round of 32, she rallied from 4 down with eight to play to defeat Adrian Anderson, 2 up, a run that included three birdies.

But on Saturday, she lipped out a 12-footer for birdie on the 274-yard, par-4 32nd hole that could have halved a 2-down deficit. She also three-putted from 60 feet on the 33rd hole, missing an 8-foot par attempt to go 3 down. Even her last-ditch comeback effort on the 149-yard 34th hole came up a few inches short as her 15-footer for birdie didn’t quite have enough speed.

“I think I definitely need to do some putting work,” said Clemente, who also played in last week’s Wyndham Cup for the East and went 0-2 against Wilson in four-ball and foursomes play. “But I did play well. I can’t complain about winning five matches. Just need to move on to the next one. I’m going to go home and rest and prepare for the [U.S. Women’s Amateur in a couple of weeks].”

When the match concluded, Wilson, with a small group of supporters made up mainly of the grandchildren of two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Kenny Perry, was doused by water before being handed the trophy and awarded the gold medal in a ceremony on the green.

It had been a long day and a tough match, where neither player had held more than a 1-up lead for the first 30 holes. The morning 18 ended with Wilson taking the advantage into the lunch break when she nearly holed out her fourth shot on the 549-yard, par 5, and Clemente missed a 6-footer for par.

“It was kind of brutal out here today,” said Wilson of the stifling heat. “I was telling my caddie (Tate Hanks) that I wasn’t trying to say it out too loud so Gia wouldn’t hear me complain. I just tried to stay as cool as possible. TaylorMade gave me an umbrella, so I used it. That was so helpful this week. I put my face in like the ice chest over there for a little bit.”

What Champion Receives

  • Custody of the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy for one year
  • A gold medal
  • Exemptions into all future U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships for which she is age eligible
  • Exemption into the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links (must be an amateur)
  • Exemptions into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., and 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Likely invitation into the 2023 Augusta National Women’s Amateur

Notable

  • Runner-up Gianna Clemente received a silver medal, a three-year exemption into the U.S. Girls’ Junior and an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
  • Clemente would have been the fifth-youngest champion in U.S. Girls’ Junior history behind a trio of 13-year-olds (Aree Wongluekiet, Lexi Thompson and Jenny Shin), and 14-year-old Inbee Park.
  • The 74th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship will be staged at the Eisenhower Golf Course at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • Yana Wilson has been to Chambers Bay once before, but never played the actual course. She qualified for her first Drive, Chip & Putt final there in the fall of 2018, going on to win the first of two 12-13 division titles at Augusta National the following spring.
  • Semifinalists Sara Im and Maria Jose Marin both watched the morning 18 of the championship match before departing for Atlanta, Ga., and Colombia, respectively.
  • How good is Coronado High’s girls’ golf team? The Henderson, Nev., school, which won the 2021 Nevada state title, had four players in this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior: Wilson, Ali Mulhall, Brynn Kort (earned the last spot in match play via the 9-for-7 playoff) and Lily DeNunzio. Joe Sawaia, who coaches both the boys’ and girls’ teams, will have his son, Brett, an incoming freshman at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, competing in next week’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
  • Two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Kenny Perry, who resides in nearby Franklin, came out to watch the afternoon round. Wilson befriended the 14-time PGA Tour winner prior to the championship, and she and her dad, Jim, had dinner with him. Perry retired from PGA Tour Champions in November to spend more time with his nine grandchildren.
  • The combined ages of the two finalists (29) were not the youngest in U.S. Girls’ Junior history. Lexi Thompson (champion) and Karen Chung were both 13 when they squared off in 2008 at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn.

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