Three-time Pennsylvania Junior Girls’ champion Kaitlyn Lees put together a solid 1-under-par 71 Wednesday at the Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Ky. and is among the group tied for 21st at 3-under 213 heading into the final round of the 43rd Girls Junior PGA Championship.
The Dartmouth-bound Lees capped her scholastic career at Agnes Irwin this spring by winning the Inter-Ac League crown for the third time in her career. Lees earned a trip to the Girls Junior PGA Championship by grabbing one of just two spots available in the Philadelphia Girls Junior PGA Championship last month at Riverton Country Club.
Lees, who plays out of Philadelphia Country Club and Merion Golf Club, bogeyed the second hole Wednesday, but got under par with birdies at the third, fourth and sixth holes. A bogey at the eighth left her at 1-under for the round. The patient Lees then rattled off eight straight pars before making her fourth birdie of the day at the 17th. A bogey at the last left her with a 71.
It was the second straight day Lees bettered par, coming on the heels of a strong 4-under 68 in Tuesday’s second round. She opened with a 2-over 74 Monday.
The Philadelphia Section PGA’s other representative at Kearney Hill, Tower Hill junior Jennifer Cleary, also carded a 1-under 71 and is in the group tied for 33rd at 1-under 215. Cleary, the medalist in the qualifier at Riverton, matched par with a pair of 72s in her first two rounds.
Lees and Cleary, a Wilmington, Del. resident who plays out of Applecross Country Club, also played all four rounds in last year’s Girls Junior PGA Championship at The Country of St. Albans’ Lewis & Clark Course in St. Albans, Mo., Lees finishing tied for 49th and Cleary ending up in a tie for 65th. Both are on track to improve on those finishes heading into Thursday’s final round.
One of the players in the group tied for 21st at 213 along with Lees is her future Ivy League rival Ami Gianchandani, a recent Pingry School graduate who is headed for Yale. Gianchandani of Wachtung, N.J. has been the model of consistency as she carded her third straight 1-under 71 at Kearney Hill.
The runnerup a year ago at St. Albans, Yealimi Noh of Concord, Calif., is apparently determined that she won’t be the runnerup to anybody this year.
Noh birdied the first three holes on her way to a sizzling 8-under 64 Wednesday. She opened with a 66 Monday, improved by a shot with a 65 Tuesday and somehow improved by a shot again Wednesday. The 16-year-old has made 21 birdies and nary a bogey and is a ridiculous 21-under 195 through three rounds.
Noh just couldn’t catch a red-hot Rose Zhang a year ago, but Noh is turning the tables on her fellow Cali girl this year. Zhang of Irvine, Calif. set the tournament record for 54 holes a year ago at 200 and Noh smashed it by five shots.
This is a spectacularly talented field of junior players and Noh is just laying waste to it.
Zhang fired her second straight 67 and can’t feel too bad about being 14-under through three rounds, but she is seven shots behind Noh at 202. Another Californian, Alexa Melton of Covina, is tied for second with Zhang. Melton, headed for Pepperdine in the summer of 2019, opened with a spectacular 63 and has added rounds of 70 Tuesday and a solid 69 Wednesday.
Heading a group of five players tied for fourth at 12-under 204 is Lucy Li, the remarkable 15-year-old from Redwood Shores, Calif. Li helped the United States demolish Great Britain & Ireland, 17-3, in the Curtis Cup Match at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y. last month. She is a deserving No. 9 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Which tells you all you need to know about the level of talent in junior golf these days. You’d think these girls might shrink at the challenge of taking on the ninth best amateur player on the planet. Instead, despite adding a second straight 69 to her opening-round 66, Li is nine shots out of the lead. Tough crowd.
Erica Shepherd, who will defend her U.S. Junior Girls’ Amateur title next week at Poppy Hills Golf Course on northern California’s Monterey Peninsula, could only match par with a 72 and is also the group tied for fourth at 12-under 204. Shepherd of Greenwood, Ind. will join the powerhouse Duke program later this summer.
You’ve probably never heard of Yuka Saso of the Philippines. I have. As a 15-year-old two summers ago, Saso made it all the way to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club. Who’d she beat, 1-up, to get to the semifinals? Just Nasa Hataoka, the Japanese teen who nearly won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes, an LPGA major, a couple of weeks ago.
Saso is in that group at 12-under 204 as well after a 4-under 68 Wednesday. So is Alexa Pano, the 13-year-old from Lake Worth, Fla. She’ll turn 14 later this summer, but she’s still only 13 and cooled off from her spectacular second-round 64 with a 2-under 70.
Rounding out the talented quintet at 12-under is Annabelle Pancake, a 16-year-old from Zionsville, Ind. Looks like her dad Tony is the director of golf at Crooked Stick Golf Club. Pancake had the second-best round of the day Wednesday, a 7-under 65.
I’m sure most of these girls are going to be in the field next week at Poppy Hills which means there is going to be some seriously good matches. And nobody knows better than Noh that she better keep making birdies Thursday.