RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Angel Yin had lunch with Katherine Kirk earlier in the week. When the veteran player said hello, a nervous Yin looked away.
The 15-year-old found it impossible to hide during Round 1 of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, however, as she was paired with Kirk. Things must have gotten comfortable fast for Yin, who posted a 4-under 68 to take solo second after the morning wave.
A chance meeting with Michelle Wie, however, might not go as smoothly.
“If (Michelle) sat next to me and said hi to me, I’d probably run,” Yin said.
That wide-eyed, youthful perspective is always refreshing at the big events. While the marquee names duke it out for glory, there’s usually at least one super-stoked kid who defies expectations and delights crowds with a large dose of naivete.
But this isn’t Yin’s first time making headlines. At age 13, she qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run. Last year she won a junior qualifier to get in the field at the Kraft and then made the cut. She Monday-qualified for last week’s Kia Classic.
“Last week was the first time I played a tournament in like two weeks,” Yin said. “I got really nervous. The first hole, I picked up the ball on the fringe and got penalized, which is pretty bad.”
Yin’s parents moved from Beijing to the U.S. 16 years ago. A Chinese player, Shanshan Feng, leads the Kraft after an opening 66. There are two Chinese players currently competing on the LPGA.
Michelle Yin doesn’t play golf but has listened intently at her daughter’s lessons for years. Angel has three instructors and, since last September, a trainer.
Michelle is on the bag this week, helping with yardages and keeping her calm.
“I know her game for a long time,” said Michelle. “I know the weaknesses.”
Yin hasn’t won much on the junior scene, but that might be because she’s too big for the courses. She averages around 270 off the tee, and Michelle has a hard time convincing her strong, young girl to lay up.
“Her ball lands in trouble,” Michelle said. “She has to punch out. That’s why her short game is really good.”
Yin hit seven fairways, 14 greens and had 28 putts in the first round. She made six birdies on a course veteran players called especially difficult.
“The pin positions were very tough for the first day,” said 2013 champion Inbee Park. “Half of the pins, we couldn’t go at the pins.”
Yin had decided to try and qualify for the 2012 USWO, her first major, because a qualifier was being held at her home course, Industry Hills.
“I just felt like I should try it out to see what’s up with the older kids,” Yin said.
What’s up? Yin’s name on the board.