16-year-old Yujeong Son braves the cold to win Harder Hall Invitational

Courtesy of Harder Hall

16-year-old Yujeong Son braves the cold to win Harder Hall Invitational

Amateur

16-year-old Yujeong Son braves the cold to win Harder Hall Invitational

SEBRING, Fla. – It didn’t snow in Sebring, Fla., but as the East Coast braced for a bomb cyclone, the weather was so extreme at the Harder Hall Invitational that officials canceled the first round. It’s believed to be the first time in the 63-year history of the event that a round has been scrapped.

When Sebring native Kendall Griffin heard a horn blow on Wednesday, she rushed to mark her ball on the eighth green. 

“I don’t care if it was a car horn,” Griffin told her playing partners. She’d had enough.

The temperature was 35 degrees when the LSU freshman arrived on the range Thursday morning. The feels-like temp was 28 and the golf balls were covered in frost. Officials pushed back tee times an hour that day but the show went on. 

By Saturday’s final round, the sun was out and temps climbed into the mid-50s as Kentucky’s Leonie Bettel carried a one-stroke lead over 16-year-old Yujeong Son. But Son, one of the hottest players on the amateur circuit, took advantage of a struggling Bettel and mounted a seven-stroke lead at the turn. Griffin, who trailed by eight strokes at the start of the day, got to within five strokes with four holes to play. 

Yet Son, a terrific scrambler, kept her distance and cruised to a six-shot victory. Her closing 3-over 75 gave her an even-par 216 total. Griffin (74) and Bettel (82) finished tied for second at 222. 

It marked the third straight victory in three weeks for Son, who won both the Dixie Amateur (for a second consecutive year) and the Allstate Sugar Bowl Tommy Moore Invitational (for a third consecutive year) in late December. Next week she’ll go for a fourth at the AJGA ANNIKA Invitational in St. Augustine, Fla.

“I made the putts that I needed to,” said Son, who didn’t have a three-putt all week.

The serious-minded Son, No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, has no designs on playing collegiately. These amateur titles won’t lead to a spot on the Curtis Cup team either as she’s not a U.S. citizen. The Norman, Okla., resident said her family moved from South Korea when she was 6 years old.

“We didn’t think we were going to stay this long and didn’t apply for citizenship,” said Son. “Golf is really what’s making us stay.”

Son’s victory at the Swinging Skirts AJGA Invitational last August gave her a berth in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, her first start on the LPGA. She admires the level-headedness of South Korean star Inbee Park. Next month Son will compete in the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Golf Championship in Singapore, where the winner receives starts in the HSBC Women’s World Championship, ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open.

Griffin grew up seven minutes from Harder Hall Golf Club and began competing in the tournament at age 10. It was so cold that year that Jaye Marie Green got frostbite and quit after nine holes. Lexi Thompson lost in a playoff in 2010 to Kyle Roig. Griffin learned early that Harder Hall week is – more times than not – the worst weather week of the year in Florida. But she loves it anyway. 

As Griffin answered questions for reporters in the clubhouse, a number of fans came up to say congratulations. Playing in the final group, she said, felt like a win in itself.

Every year during the Harder Hall several players stay with the Griffin family. In 2015, Griffin flew to England to stay with Annabell Fuller’s family and compete. That year it hailed four times in one round at the Welsh Ladies Open. Griffin shot 91 that day and improved by 20 shots in the second round.

And so began the mantra, “It can’t be worse than Wales.”

There’s always next year, Sebring.

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