Ha knocks off medalist Yin at U.S. Girls' Junior
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Cindy Ha has been at this for nearly two weeks. Somehow, she still found the legs to beat Goliath on Thursday at the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
Ha was one of 14 players who flew directly from the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at the Home Course in DuPont, Wash., to the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Forest Highlands. Regardless, she took down medalist Angel Yin late Thursday afternoon after being iced by a weather delay for more than an hour.
“Everyone is tired, so you have to think of yourself as an equal player with the same circumstances,” said Ha, a 17-year-old from Demarest, N.J.
If Ha truly felt the fatigue she described, she didn’t show it as she emerged from the clubhouse, did a few jumping jacks and lunges on the way to the 15th tee and won two holes in a row. She drained a 25-footer for birdie at the 15th, then got up and down for par at No. 16 courtesy of a deft chip from behind the green.
By the time Ha and Yin reached the 17th – a par 3 stretched to 235 yards on Thursday – Ha was 2 up. Still, as Ha pulled 4-wood, Yin used an iron.
“Seeing her hit an iron off No. 17 was crazy,” Ha said. “To see it fly straight at the hole was nervewracking.”
Yin quickly developed a reputation as the most powerful player in the field this week. She is long and accurate, and it helped her take medalist honors by five shots. She even tied the course record of 7-under 65.
For Ha’s father Matthew, it was refreshing to watch his daughter line up against Yin. For the past two years, Ha’s driver has experienced dark days. What Matthew described as “driver yips” caused his daughter to become mired in a slump. Ha was considerably shorter than Yin, but kept pace admirably.
With help from a new swing coach, Jason Birmbaum, Ha’s game has returned to form – the form that drew Vanderbilt coaches to recruit her to Nashville, Tenn. Cindy was inspired to play for Vanderbilt by former player Marina Alex, now an LPGA player, whom she met (and defeated) at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur. The Girls’ Junior is Ha’s last hurrah before she joins the Commodore roster in a month.
“I’m very happy,” Matthew said from the sidelines on Thursday. The Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Junior Amateur are the only U.S. Golf Association championships where parents are not allowed to caddie for their own children. The Has found a way around it.
Matthew donned a caddie bib for Cindy’s good friend Robynn Ree, of Redondo Beach, Calif., for the week and Ree’s father Kenneth did the same for Cindy. It speaks to the communal nature of junior golf, as did Kenneth’s sentiments post-round.
“It was heartbreaking for me to see Angel lose,” he said. It seems Ree has a soft spot in his heart for all his daughter’s fellow golfers. Even though Robynn lost to Mary Janiga in the second round of match play, Kenneth will continue to caddie. Sons Ryan, who plays for Oregon, and Lawrence, who plays for Loyola-Marymount, are playing in the Pacific Coast Amateur across town. Kenneth’s final thought on Thursday evening was the hope that he would still be at Forest Highlands for the final match.
As for the Has, this marathon trip west has not been wasted. Last week, Cindy advanced all the way to the semifinals, where she fell to eventual champion Alice Jo. On Friday, she’ll get another chance at quarterfinal glory when she meets Brigitte Dunne.
Ha will meet it with purpose. This tournament, Ha has told herself, offers a great opportunity.
“Make your last stand as a junior,” she said.