Yealimi Noh finds form en route to dominant junior season, eyes pro career

Yealimi Noh reacts to her parr putt on the 16th hole during the semifinal round at the 2018 U.S. Girls' Junior at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. on Saturday, July 21, 2018. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban) USGA/JD Cuban

Yealimi Noh finds form en route to dominant junior season, eyes pro career

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Yealimi Noh finds form en route to dominant junior season, eyes pro career

It was roughly 18 months ago that Yealimi Noh entered the Arizona Silver Belle Championship knowing she needed a strong performance for starts the following year.

That sense of urgency didn’t click. Noh opened in 6-over 78 and finished in a tie for 40th.

It was the end of a rough 2016 on the golf course and the teenager needed a good showing, yet she hadn’t put in enough work or focus heading into the tournament.

“After that I realized, ‘I need to get my head in the game,’ ” Noh said.

That turning point has proved a challenge to the rest of junior golf. Noh won that event the following year and added a victory this April at the AJGA’s Hana Financial Group Se Ri Pak Junior Championship.

But she saved her most spirited run for this summer.

Noh, 17, won the California Junior Championship and went on a national tear, firing a record-setting 24-under to cruise to victory at the Girls Junior PGA Championship, following with the U.S. Girls’ Junior title and then eking out a one-shot win at the Canadian Women’s Amateur. Overall, she’s won five of her last six events and finished second in the other.

The Concord, Calif., product was already one of the elite prospects in junior golf, but this stunning run has pushed her into the discussion as maybe the top junior in the game.

“She’s got another gear, she’s just tapping into it this last month,” said Erik Stone, Noh’s longtime coach. “No one can beat her when she’s on her game.”

Noh’s streak couldn’t come at a better time. She was set to go to UCLA in 2019 but decommitted in late June, right before the California Junior Championship, deciding she would skip college to turn pro earlier.

That call did not sit well with everyone. Noh remained undaunted.

“All those words and people doubting me, that really motivated me to play better and really show people I can do it,” Noh said. “After that I won four tournaments in a row, and I think I’ve proven enough, so far.”

Of course, Noh hopes she is far from done. Her recent run doesn’t have her resting, as she returns to competition Monday at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She makes her debut in an LPGA event this month at the CP Women’s Open.

Move to pro ranks in store next year

Noh says she plans to turn professional next year, although a specific date is to be determined.

A move to homeschooling has helped fuel Noh’s rise, as has more attentiveness in lessons, greater focus in practice and extra work in the gym.

But some more recent developments have keyed her recent run. Noh already was a long hitter, but a few months ago long-term changes finally started to pay dividends. A shortened backswing and more rotation at impact helped unlock as many as 20 additional yards off the tee, putting her around a 270-yard average.

That distance increase, along with seeing her peers performing well in LPGA events, helped push her toward turning pro sooner.

Noh also noticed shortly before the California Junior Championship that the face of her main putter had become dented. Noh had wanted a new flatstick anyway and came across an Odyssey EXO Rossie for a replacement. She believed in the past that her putting could be streaky because she was prone to hitting it too hard at times, but the soft feel and ball rolling “forever” off her new putter has solved that problem.

With all these tools, there’s not much stopping Noh.

“In terms of physical ability and just hitting golf shots, she may be top 30 in the world right now,” Stone said. “Between the lines, she’s got everything.” Gwk

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