West Coast Jr: Chou, Tsai prevail at steamy Mesa
MESA, Ariz. – On a blazing Saturday in the desert, Madeline Chou managed to keep her cool enough to post a 3-under 69. Twenty-four hours later, and after another round just like it, Chou earned one of the biggest junior-golf titles of her young career.
Chou’s 6-under 138 at Mesa Country Club gave her a five-shot victory at Golfweek’s West Coast Junior Invitational. The 15-year-old from Santa Ana, Calif., made just two bogeys over 36 holes and covered with eight birdies.
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“This is a really important tournament for me,” said Chou, who is ranked No. 105 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings.
Mesa Country Club is an easy walk but is tight off the tee. That fit Chou’s game well. Together with swing coach Erik Horve, who teaches out of Tustin Ranch Golf Club, Chou has been putting an increased emphasis on her short game and putting.
“I’m not one of the longest hitters,” said Chou. “That favored me.”
Already this year, Chou won the AJGA’s Junior All-Star at Hot Springs Village. She had three top-5 finishes in AJGA events to end last summer. Next on her calendar? Play every U.S. Golf Association qualifier she can, from the U.S. Girls’ Junior to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links to the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Chou is just a sophomore at Foothill High School, but has her sights set on college golf. Academics are important to Chou, who says the half of her life that isn’t about golf revolves around studying. Dream schools include Stanford and Harvard.
It’s a similar story for Jiyoon Jang, who came up short in her title defense. Jang knows she’ll play college golf someday, she just isn’t sure where. In the past year, Jang’s golf career has made great strides, even if she wasn’t able to win the West Coast Junior for a second time. Jang opened with 3-over 75 but rebounded on Sunday with a 4-under 68. It was the lowest score posted by any girl.
“I honestly hated my swing last year,” Jang said of the progression in her game. Jang, ranked No. 76, is mentally stronger now, too. She used to play more aggressively, but “not in a good way.”
Jang’s higher score in the first round came from a mental error at the par-5 ninth. She tried to go for the green in two and ended up with a triple, so Sunday, she tried to keep it simple.
“If I do that, and get on the green, I’ll always have a chance,” she said.
These days, Jang can proudly score even with her C game – her bad scores continue to get better, making her a more well-rounded player.
Call Shawn Tsai, the winner in the boys division, a more well-rounded player for different reasons. The 17-year-old moved to Ontario, Canada just over a year ago to live with a friend’s family. Tsai knew it was important to leave his home of Taiwan if he wanted his golf game to improve.
Tsai, ranked No. 284, was tied for second after opening with 2-under 70, but returned a 6-under 66 in Round 2. Tsai birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to seal his four-shot victory over Brett Beazant, a native of Cheshire, England.
“I played well today,” Tsai said. “I had a good start. My putting is better, ballstriking is better.”
Tsai had five birdies in his opening 10 holes. When he made an 11th birdie at No. 13, he began to feel some nerves. He bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 as a result.
“If I’m leading, I will be nervous,” said Tsai, who regained his confidence coming in to finish with the pair of birdies.
So far, Tsai’s big move is paying off.