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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Son keeps rising with victory in chilly Harder Hall Invitational

   Yujeong Son, the teen from Oklahoma via South Korea, continued her strong winter run by capturing the title at the venerable Harder Hall Women’s Invitational in less-than-ideal conditions last week.
   That air mass that made below-zero wind chills a daily occurrence in the Northeast last week stretched all the way to South Florida, forcing the opening round of the 63rd edition of the Harder Hall to be called off in mid-round because it was just too cold.
   That made it a 54-hole event and the 16-year-old Son, with temperatures barely making it to the 40s and a harsh wind, carded a 3-over-par 75 at Harder Hill Golf Club in Sebring, Fla. Saturday to cruise to a six-shot victory with an even-par 216 total.
   LSU freshman Kendall Griffin, a native of the Sebring area, shared second place with Kentucky’s Leonie Bettel, a junior from Austria, at 6-over 222. Bettel actually led Son by a shot heading into the final round after firing the best round of the tournament, a 4-under 68, in the second round. But the conditions got the better of Bettel in the final round as she posted an 82. Griffin moved up the leaderboard with a solid 2-over 74.
   It was the third straight victory in events surrounding the holidays for Son. She bested another field of collegians and top mid-amateurs in winning the Dixie Women’s Amateur at Woodlands Country Club in Tamarac, Fla. last month.
   The week between Christmas and New Year’s, Son beat a field of her fellow juniors with a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Tommy Moore Junior Golf Championship in New Orleans.
   She has made it clear that she plans to turn pro rather than try to hone her game at the collegiate level, although it sounds like she might play out much of 2018 on the junior/amateur scene.
   Son opened the Harder Hall with a 3-under 69, the only sub-70 round recorded in the opening round. She matched par with a 72 in Friday’s second round before finishing up with a 75. Son, whose family moved to Oklahoma from South Korea when she was 6, credited her experience playing in some tricky winds in her adopted home state with helping her navigate the tough conditions at Harder Hall.
   Kennesaw State’s Roanne Tomlinson, a junior from Lake Mary, Fla., finished fourth, two shots behind Griffin and Bettel at 8-over 224. Tomlinson finished up with a 76.
   The fifth-place finisher is listed as Esther D. Park. Not sure if that is the Esther Park who is a student at The Charter of Wilmington and competes in Pennsylvania junior events as a member at Applecross Country Club, but it might be. After struggling in the opening round with a 78, Park strung together solid rounds of 73 and 74 for a 9-over 225 total.
   Louisville’s Olivia Cason, a junior from Owensboro, Ky., was another shot behind Park in sixth after a final-round 75 left her at 227. Annabell Fuller, a 15-year-old from England, was alone in seventh place at 229 after a final-round 78.
   Heading a group of four players tied for eighth at 230 was transplanted South Jersey native Meghan Stasi, the four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion from Oakland Park, Fla. Stasi, an eight-time Women’s Golf Association of Philadelphia Match-Play Championship winner, carded a final-round 75.
   Stasi was joined at 230 by UCF’s Kaeli Jones, a senior from Sumterville, Fla. who carded an outstanding 1-under 71 while the rest of the field struggled mightily in the final round, UNC-Wilmington’s Kayla Thompson, a senior from Clarkton, N.C. who sandwiched a 2-under 70 with a pair of 80s, and Clemson’s Sydney Legacy, a senior from Lexington, S.C. who had a final-round 83.
Seton Hall’s Chester County connection, sophomore Maddie Sager, the 2015 PIAA Class AAA runnerup as a senior at Owen J. Roberts, and sophomore Sammie Staudt, a former Coatesville standout, teed it up at Harder Hall.
   Sager struggled through the first two days with rounds of 86 and 84 before finishing up with a 75 for a 245 total that gave her a first-place finish in Flight 2. Staudt had rounds of 83 and 87 before withdrawing in the final round.
   The Harder Hall, the first in a series of women’s amateur events known as the Orange Blossom Tour, often draws college players trying to fine-tune their games during their midseason break. While the scores might not have been the best, playing top competition in tough conditions will pay off this spring for Sager and Staudt.
   Finishing fourth in Flight 2 was veteran WGAP competitor Alexandra Frazier, who plays out of Gulph Mills Golf Club. Frazier struggled in the opening round with a 92, but bounced back with rounds of 83 and 87 for a 262 total.
   Merion Golf Club’s ageless Liz Haines finished fourth in Flight 3 with rounds of 91, 87 and 93 for a 271 total.
   In the Ben Roman division, Mary Rhodes of Greensboro, N.C. won the Marge Burns Flight with rounds of 87 and 85 for a 172 total and Mary Biermann won the Tish Preuss Flight with rounds of 99 and 84 for a 183 total.
   The Harder Hall website also pictured a Forever 49 champion, Beatriz Arenas, a 69-year-old artist from Guatemala who finished tied for seventh in Flight 1 with rounds of 86, 81 and 84 for a 251 total. Game for a lifetime indeed.

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