U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Now a Coach, 1991 Champ Enjoys Visit to Ridgewood July 19, 2016 | Paramus, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

1991 U.S. Girls' Junior champion Emilee Klein-Gille has traded her playing career for the college coaching ranks. (University of Tulsa Athletics)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

Twenty-five years ago, Emilee Klein grasped the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy as the winner of the 1991 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

This week, as the head women’s golf coach at the University of Tulsa, the USGA champion, who now goes by Emilee Klein-Gille, strolled the fairways of The Ridgewood Country Club looking for future players for her program.

“It’s still such a special memory,” said Klein-Gille, who has coached  the Golden Hurricane since 2014. “And now, it’s fun being here and seeing a different side of it because I know how important and how special this championship is.”

The Santa Monica, Calif., native won the 1988 California Women’s State Amateur before capturing the U.S. Girls’ Junior title three years later, the same year she was named the AJGA Junior Player of the Year.

During her college days, the two-time All-American helped lead Arizona State University to the 1993 and 1994 NCAA Championship titles, earning individual honors in 1994. That same year, she earned a spot on the USA Curtis Cup Team.

Klein defeated Kimberly Marshall, 3 and 2, at Crestview Country Club in Wichita, Kan., to capture the 1991 U.S. Girls' Junior title. (USGA Archives)

Klein-Gille turned professional in 1995 and posted two runner-up finishes on the LPGA Tour during her rookie year before winning twice in 1996, including the Women’s British Open. Her third win on tour came in 2001, when she posted a wire-to-wire victory at the Michelob Light Classic.

She was part of the victorious 2002 USA Solheim Cup Team, posting a 3-1-0 record during the competition.

Her competitive playing career wrapped up in 2005, at which point she took the head coaching position at the University of Central Florida. A stint as the coach at San Diego State University followed, before she, her husband and two children moved to Tulsa two years ago.

While her playing days are well behind her, Klein-Gille knows that her experience as a competitor has paid dividends during her second career.

“I think my college players trust me in a way that I’ve been there and I know what it takes to win,” she said. “Now, I can help them do it.”

Even though it’s been 25 years since she won the Girls’ Junior, Klein-Gille has enjoyed walking the fairways this week and the memories it has inspired.

“It’s great to look back and to remember those feelings I had during this championship,” she said. “When I look at these young players out here, I know what it feels like to be in their shoes.”

She also remembers what happened to the trophy when it was returned by 1990 champion Sandrine Mendiburu, who had it shipped back to the United States from France.

“It was all dented when it arrived, so I didn’t get the trophy until the last six months,” she said. “My parents put it on the mantel above our fireplace and I had a picture taken with it. I still have that picture.”

Klein-Gille also snapped a photo of the trophy last year when the championship was held at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club. She planned to check it out again while it is on display at Ridgewood before heading back home.

“It’s been a while since I won, but it’s still fun seeing my name on that trophy,” she said. “It’s such an incredible memory and honor to win a USGA title, which is something every player strives to win, and it’s one of those things that still gives me goose bumps to this day, just thinking about it.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.