ORLANDO – Anne Yu is coming out of her shell. For the 18-year-old, the hardest part about moving from her home in Shanghai to take the next step with golf was socializing – meeting people and making friends.
On a steamy Saturday at Omni Resort at ChampionsGate, the banter between Yu and opponent Annabell Fuller was constant in the opening round of the Golfweek International Junior. Yu barely noticed the round was passing. The birdies added up – in the end, there were seven in her 5-under 67 on the National course – and when Yu went back to make camp with her International Junior Golf Academy teammates, she was in the lead.
“Today I was really rolling the putts. I’ve been working on my putting stroke for the past week because I was struggling a little bit,” she said after the round. “Just keeping the ball in the fairway and hitting greens also helped a lot.”
Yu pulled a few drives, but mostly managed to keep it in the fairway – she found 12 of them on the day and was able to set up birdie opportunities from there.
Despite being a senior in high school, Yu but isn’t quite sure what her future in golf holds. She knows she’d like to play professionally but hasn’t made any college decisions for now. The Yu family moved from Shanghai six years ago, but Yu’s parents have since moved back while she stays on at the golf school in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida.
Yu’s game-improvement journey has taken her all around the greater Orlando area – from Timucuan Golf Club to the Mike Bender Academy (both in nearby Lake Mary) to the David Leadbetter Academy that shares space with this weekend’s tournament venue.
This is Yu’s third year at the IJGA, where she also boards and attends school. When Anne’s mother, Mary, was diagnosed with cancer two and a half years ago, a live-in golf school became the best option. It has been a difficult few years not just being alone but worrying about her mother, though Anne happily reports that Mary is in recovery.
The next time the Yu family unites will be end of this year when Anne plays the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Anne will then go home to Shanghai for the winter break. Food is at the top of her list of must dos. She can’t wait for authentic dim sum, Peking duck and her favorite dumpling dish.
Long term, Yu hopes she’s on a path similar to Angelina Ye, the reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion who just began her freshman season at Stanford. Ye also was born in Shanghai, and attended the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The two girls struck up a friendship in the small world of junior golf but have lost touch. Ye was an older sister-type figure, despite being just a year ahead of Yu.
“I look up to her,” Yu said.
In junior golf, it’s all about experiences and Fuller, who played alongside Yu but finished a shot behind her with 68, has plenty of that. Fuller ended the day in a share of second along with Bailey Davis and Ka Yee Kwok.
Fuller, in fact, may be the most seasoned player in either field at ChampionsGate. In addition to representing Great Britain and Ireland in the 2018 Curtis Cup, the Englishwoman played on the European Junior Solheim Cup team at the start of the year.
“The greens were rolling quite smooth, I thought, so they were quite true to the line. If you hit a good putt, it would stay on line,” said Fuller, who gained more confidence the more putts she holed.
This marks Fuller’s Golfweek International Junior debut. She had to withdraw from the event last year with shin splints. Fuller likes to run to clear her head, but her strength is short bursts of speed – usually a 5K or less.
“It’s a nice time to myself,” Fuller said of running, a hobby she shares with her mom.
The fitness aspect of running serves Fuller well in the relentless Florida heat. She has planted herself at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and has no plans to leave the Sunshine State anytime soon, considering that she has verbally committed to the University of Florida.
“I don’t come across the world to go to cold weather,” said Fuller, who first experienced the eternal sunshine as a kid when the whole family vacationed in Florida over the winters.
Zesen Hu leads after late burst
On the boys side, Zesen Hu birdied three of his first four holes on ChampionsGate’s International Course and despite a couple of bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15, took the lead with a 4-under 68.
Hu was one ahead of Kiko Coelho, whose 3-under 69 was helped tremendously by an eagle at No. 8 and a final birdie at No. 18, and Jose Antonio Safa.
Defending champion Nick Gabrelcik, a Florida native, is just two shots behind after a 70 that included three birdies.
“It was a little bit different,” Gabrelcik said of the venue, “because just looking at the eye test down the holes, it looks like a position course but then you look at the yardage and the yardage book and you know you have to hit 3-woods and drivers on tight holes and so you have to make good swings at the right time.”