SEBRING, Fla. –– The 2018 competitive golf season is far from being in full swing, but that’s hardly seemed to matter for Yujeong Son.
The 16-year-old Son, a resident of Norman, Okla., overcame windy and bone-chilling, 30- and 40-degree weather in the final round to shoot 3-over 75 and register a six-stroke victory at the 63rd Harder Hall Women’s Invitational at Harder Hall Golf Club.
All told, Son completed the tournament with an even-par 216 aggregate (69-72-75). Weather was a storyline throughout the tournament—the first day was cancelled due to inclement weather, reducing the event from a 72-hole to a 54-hole event.
Leonie Bettel, a junior at the University of Kentucky and the leader heading into the final round, ballooned to 82, while LSU freshman Kendall Griffin, a Sebring resident, signed for a closing-day 74, equaling the second-lowest round of the day. Both competitors finished with a 6-over 222 total.
Son owned a three-shot lead following a first-day 69 before Bettle fired a championship-best 68 in the second round to edge ahead of her nearest pursuer in Son by one stroke.
In the final round, par was an excellent score and big numbers were in play due to the challenging conditions and cold climate. Using steadiness and occasional brilliance as her primary allies, Son accounted for two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey. Her best shot may’ve been the 5-iron that she somehow kept under the breeze at the par-4 eighth hole that settled 4 feet from the hole, fueling her to a one over par outward half. Having already raced ahead of the field, Son made a late birdie from 9 feet at the par-3 16th hole.
“All I wanted to do was make pars, not get too far ahead of myself, do what I should be doing and play my game,” Son said.
She secured the title in her debut appearance.
“All I wanted was a top-three (finish), honestly, because this is my first year playing here,” Son said. “It feels surreal. I tried to not let anything get to me and play my game.”
Son claimed her third major amateur invitational title in the past two-plus weeks, having notched a repeat victory at the Dixie Women’s Amateur on Dec. 22 and she won the girls’ 13-18 year-old division of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Tommy Moore Memorial Junior Golf Championship on Dec. 28.
At 16, Son’s goals have crystalized; she wants to play on the LPGA Tour.
“I’ve always wanted to turn pro,” Son said. “Winning these past couple of weeks has given me a boost in letting me know I can win these tournaments and helps me get through to my goals.”
She moved with her family from their native South Korea to Stillwater, Okla., at age 6 and nearly a year later, they headed to Norman, Okla. Golf has been in her blood since—so, seemingly, has playing at a high level.
Son is the youngest Oklahoma women’s golf amateur state champion in history, triumphing at age 13. As a freshman year in high school in July 2016, she won the Class 6A individual state championship playing for Norman High School. That same summer, she advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Last June, she rolled to victory at the Oklahoma Golf Association Junior Girls’ Championship.
After capturing the Swinging Skirts American Junior Golf Association Invitational in August 2017, Son earned an exemption into the field at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship last October.
These days, Son is being homeschooled, partly so she can continue to hone her golfing skills. She entered the Harder Hall ranked fourth in both the Golfweek girls’ junior rankings and the Rolex AJGA rankings.
With the hope of turning professional, she may never step foot on a college campus. While realizing that the destination of the professional ranks is a process, claiming the Harder Hall adds to her confidence level.
“It is a tournament I really wanted to win because of how great the field is, always. It’s an honor to win,” Son said.
|5||Esther D. Park||78||73||74||225|
|9||Kaeli A. Jones||78||81||71||230|
|10||Kayla M. Thompson||80||70||80||230|
|19||Cecily O. Overbey||78||81||76||235|