Angelina Ye uses late turn of events to win ANNIKA Invitational USA

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Angelina Ye uses late turn of events to win ANNIKA Invitational USA

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Angelina Ye uses late turn of events to win ANNIKA Invitational USA

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Angelina Ye hoped to win her first AJGA invitational at some point in 2018. It took her two weeks into the year to achieve that dream.

Ye flipped the script late Monday at the ANNIKA Invitational USA. She stood on the par-3 15th tee at the World Golf Village’s Slammer & Squire Course two shots back and in line to finish runner-up to wire-to-wire winner Mathilde Claisse.

Only, the French player stumbled late, and Ye rose with a pair of birdies to snatch a two-shot victory and with it earn an exemption into the Symetra Tour’s Florida’s Natural Charity Classic.

In the aftermath, Ye was trying to take it all in. As she waited for a video interview to start, Ye queried what the questions would be, noting with a laugh that she was “kind of freaking out.”

Understandable considering the main goal she set had shockingly come so quickly.

“I didn’t think that it would come so fast,” said Ye, who earned her second AJGA win overall Monday. “First event of the year, definitely a great start.”

For much of the day, though, it appeared a different outcome would arrive.

Claisse had led from the start of the week, posting a bogey early in Round 1 but ending that day with a 3-under 69 for a one-shot lead. She had played 30 bogey-free holes before closing with one in Round 2 – but with a 71, she led by two at 4 under.

After five straight pars to begin Monday, Claisse appeared she might become unnerved when at the par-4 sixth she flubbed a pitch, knocked her next one to 4 feet and couldn’t get the putt to drop. Double bogey.

But her round quickly stabilized. Claisse actually missed another shortie at No. 7, this time for birdie, but she knocked one in for birdie at the par-5 eighth. Another birdie followed at No. 10 to right the ship.

Bogeys at No. 12 and 13 set her back, but Claisse still had a one-shot advantage over Lucy Li at that point.

Li, the top-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior girls rankings, then double bogeyed the par-3 15th.

That’s what put Claisse two ahead of Ye on that 15th tee.

Then the Poissy, France, product made a mental mistake. On the treacherous par 3, she wasn’t sure about her distance and didn’t lay into her 8-iron that hard. Her ball ended up short and in the water, leading to a double bogey.

Meanwhile, Ye’s soft 8-iron leaked a bit right of where she wanted but the ball ended 5 feet from the hole. When her birdie putt dropped, it was a three-shot swing and Ye was in the lead after starting the round three back.

At the next hole, Ye faced a 20-footer for birdie with a patch of bad grass that she thought might push the ball offline in the way. With no choice, she hit her putt and it rolled true into the cup for a birdie and a three-shot lead when Claisse bogeyed.

“I didn’t see that one going in,” Ye admitted.

Li’s birdie at the last secured her a closing 72 and an even-par total, but Ye finished par-par for a final-round 71 and a 2-under total. Claisse dropped to solo third after a Monday 77 put her to 1 over.

The 2019 South Carolina commit, who ranks No. 86 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, had pointed to her putting as keeping her out in front over the first 36 holes,

But she felt uncomfortable on the greens Monday, prompting her to note that practicing indoors in the winter in France may have had an effect in the end.

“Maybe the fact I haven’t putted on real greens just caught up with me,” Claisse said.

As for what she’ll take from this week overall, it was an opportunity lost but an opportunity nonetheless.

“It’s golf and I’m going to learn from that,” Claisse said. “Maybe next year.”

Ye actually doesn’t have much immediate competitive events after this week, but her American odyssey continues.

The 16-year-old was born in Shanghai and grew up most of her life there. She would follow her parents to the range as a toddler and first seriously took up golf at age 6.

But early in ninth grade at Shanghai American School, a change was in order.

It became apparent the school didn’t give much support to sports. When Ye, an excellent student, went to play in a golf event that coincided with final exams, she was given a zero on every one.

Her dad, John, had long wished for his family to move to the U.S. because of the country’s superior junior golf system. Wanting their daughter to be able to mix academics and golf, John and wife, Rose, could see it was time.

Their budding golfer agreed.

“Angelina said, ‘Oh, I need to go,’ ” Rose said.

Rose moved to Bradenton, Fla., along with her two children, Angelina and 11-year-old son James, in January 2016. Angelina has been enrolled at the IMG Academy in Bradenton ever since.

John remains in Shanghai in order to continue to run his car service company, but his emotional support is never doubted: he was up until 4 a.m. local time to see how his daughter would finish at the ANNIKA.

The family move has paid dividends. Ye, No. 14 in Golfweek’s rankings and sixth in the Class of 2019, has verbally committed to Stanford. Along with her two AJGA wins, Ye has also played in the AJGA’s prestigious Wyndham Cup.

And it’s all certainly given her a peace of mind. During the final round, Ye didn’t truly know where she stood at any point.

Sure, she could sense where she might be, but Ye didn’t even know she was leading down the stretch. It fit in with her motto heading into the final round.

“Keeping a relaxed mindset and enjoying the round of golf,” Ye said.

The teenager appears to have her priorities in order, a lesson that stems back several years.

At a tournament roughly a decade ago, all the competitors were chipping around a putting green even though it was expressly forbidden.

Angelina wanted to join in but Rose said no. After the youngster asked why, her mother explained doing so would not be correct. Then she offered an ultimatum.

“I gave her two choices: You can chip here, then we will go home and no more tournament or you will just putt here and you can play in the tournament.”

The conclusion…

“She chose the second option,” Rose said with a laugh.

That calm decision-making proved to come in handy once again on Monday.

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