Three sets of sisters are in the field this week at the 67th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
Identical twins Jessica and Sarah Spicer of Bahama, N.C.; Courtney and Kelsey Zeng of Orlando, Fla.; and Yu Sang and Yu Chiang Hou of Chinese Taipei are providing plenty of sisterly support during this week’s national championship, albeit with a tiny dose of competitive bantering.
“We try to help each other be better,” said Yu Sang, 16. “But I don’t want to lose to my sister.”
“She’s angry every morning,” said Yu Chiang, 14. “OK, maybe I sleep too late.”
Yu Chiang, who doesn’t always move fast enough for her early-bird big sister, had some fun on Yu Sang’s recent birthday. The younger sibling surprised her sister with shaving cream in her hair and a little push into their hotel pool.
But while the two may squabble like normal siblings, the older sister says she looks out for her little sister, while the younger sibling says she’s grateful to be traveling far from home with the person she knows the best.
“We do everything together all the time,” said Yu Chiang. “It’s so boring to be by myself.”
Each summer, the sisters come to the United States to play junior golf tournaments for two months. They are traveling this week with one other player, Han Hsuan Yu (and Yu’s mother), as members of the seven-player Swinging Skirts Foundation Team from Chinese Taipei.
The Hou sisters qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior in Minnesota earlier this year, shooting identical scores of 73. Their good play continued in Tulsa, as both easily qualified for match play with Yu Sang recording a 36-hole total of 3-under 137 and Yu Chiang coming in at 2-over 142.
The Zeng sisters participated in other sports and activities until picking up golf about seven years ago. Courtney still competed in tennis, and at 12 finished fourth with her Orlando (Fla.) team in a USTA National Tennis Championship.
Injuries eventually helped her turn to golf, and when Courtney picked up the clubs, so did her little sister. The two played on the same high school team and spent countless hours practicing together.
Last year, Courtney played in her first U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifier and advanced into the championship. While she was competing, little sister Kelsey and their two younger sisters were at home in Orlando following her scores online.
This year, Kelsey qualified for the first time, but this week’s Girls’ Junior – her first USGA championship – will be the last junior tournament for the sisters. Courtney, 17, leaves this fall for her freshman season as a member of the Vanderbilt University women’s golf team.
“It’s awesome to be here this year, but it’s kind of sad, too, because it’s our last junior tournament together,” said Kelsey, 16, a high school junior at The First Academy in Orlando. “It’s really nice having a sister out here.”
The support is palpable with the two sisters, and both admit they hate to play each other.
“Kelsey’s really good under pressure,” said her sister. “So sometimes, I don’t really want to play her.”
But no doubt, by week’s end, the sisters – just like Venus and Serena Williams at Wimbledon – will play their hardest, but also wish the best for their sibling.
The Spicer twins, 17, have mirrored each other for all of their lives, first in competitive synchronized ice skating, and now in golf. Both play on the boys’ golf team at Northern Durham High School (N.C.) and both will be attending Virginia Tech in the fall of 2016 to play on its new women’s golf team.
“I want to beat her, but I also want her to play well,” said Jessica, competing in her second U.S. Girls’ Junior. “In the last couple of years, as we’ve gotten better and started winning tournaments, things sometimes get a little tense.”
But while each sister wants to post the family’s low score, their support for each other is evident. Jessica stood by the 18th green to watch Sarah finish on Tuesday before she started her own second round.
The sisters’ close bond in sports started in synchronized team ice skating when they were both seven. Their mother took them to see “The Nutcracker on Ice” and the twins fell in love with ice skating. When a local rink started synchronized skating, they joined the program, skating on a team of 15 girls.
“We wore the same outfits, had the same makeup, same hair, same everything, and we did identical jumps and spins,” said Sarah, the oldest twin by a few minutes. “We were even more twin-like.”
The sisters advanced into the 2010 U.S. Synchronized Skating National Championship when they were 13. But at age 15, they agreed to hang up their skates.
“We had skated for eight years and we did it at the same time as golf, but we had to pick one,” said Jessica. “We could see ourselves playing golf in college and maybe even beyond college. We wanted something we could do forever, and golf is definitely it.”
Sarah ended up advancing to match play with rounds of 71-73, while Jessica missed the cut. No doubt she’ll be hanging around to support Sarah and see how far she can go in this national championship.
Rules Official Lemieux Familiar with Tulsa C.C.
This is Jerry Lemieux’s first year on the U.S. Girls’ Junior Committee, but his second straight year working a golf championship at Tulsa Country Club.
In 2014, the Division I Women’s Golf Championship was held here. As the head Rules official for NCAA Division I women’s golf, Lemieux helps conduct their annual regionals and national championships.
Lemieux—the only man on the Girls’ Junior Committee—is clearly invested in women’s golf.
“I think that at a most basic level, it really is the future of the game,” Lemieux said. “If golf is going to grow in this country, it’s going to be girls and moms that pass it down.
“I understand the game a little better from the women’s perspective,” he added. “I still hit my 7-iron 150 [yards], and some of these girls do too.”
The Toledo, Ohio resident, who worked most of his career in the manufacturing of glass and plastic packaging, attended his first Rules of Golf workshop in 2003. Lemieux’s career as a Rules official started with high school events, as well as men’s NCAA events across all three divisions. He worked his way up, was invited to be a guest official to the 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and has served at “thirty or forty” USGA championships ever since.
As a committee member, Lemieux’s role at the Girls’ Junior includes tracking pace of play and assisting with Rules decisions. But during an NCAA championship, course setup is among his responsibilities, so Lemieux became intensely familiar with the mechanics of Tulsa Country Club last year.
“It’s scoreable, but if you hit a bad shot you’ll pay the penalty for it, and that’s kind of what you want,” Lemieux said. “You don’t want it to be too easy; you don’t want to be able to hit bad shots and get away with them all day. But at the same time, it allows you to hit good recovery shots. It’s not so penal that you’re playing out of three-foot rough.”
“I like this. I could play this golf course every day,” he added.
Lemieux also praised Tulsa’s strong golf community.
“Yesterday we had almost 100-degree weather, and we still had tons of volunteers. We didn’t have trouble having spotters, live scorers and standard bearers and everything else that were needed out here,” he said. “And for the private club to give up their course two years in a row for women’s golf is spectacular.”
“When I heard I got on the Girls’ Junior committee, the first thing I thought was, ‘I get to go back to Tulsa—this is great.’”
Tulsa, and the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, is lucky to have him.
From Players to Coaches: The Competition Continues
College coaches always come to the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship each year to scout for top talent and to walk the course in their university’s colors. They hope the best juniors in the field will be interested in playing college golf for their teams.
Not so long ago, many of the same coaches, who this week are competing for the attention of top junior players, were competing against each other in junior, amateur and professional golf.
Several former Futures Tour (now Symetra Tour) and LPGA players-turned coaches seen watching players this week include Kalen Anderson (University of South Carolina), Jan Dowling (University of Michigan), Leah Wigger Buchman (University of North Carolina), Amy Bond (Florida State University), Lucy Nunn (University of Houston), Sarah Sargent (James Madison University), Patty Frohna Post (University of Delaware), Shauna Estes (University of Arkansas) and Jeanne Cho Stokke (Duke University).
Former LPGA Tour member Annie Thurman Young (Colorado State University) was also the 2002 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, while Emily Bastel Glaser (University of Florida) and Courtney Swaim Trimble (University of Louisville), were both former USA Curtis Cup Team members.
Two former LPGA Tour winners and current college coaches, Melissa McNamara Luellen (Auburn University) and Kate Golden (University of Texas), also sported their team’s colors with their eyes on future collegians.
“We’ve all known each other for a long time,” joked Golden. “And we’re still competing.”