U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
2012 Girls' Junior Was One for the Ages
July 21, 2017
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
If there is one thing that Minjee Lee and Lydia Ko can agree on about the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, it’s that it seems like a long time ago – sort of.
“But it’s gone really fast – I feel like I won the U.S. Girls a couple of years ago, and it’s already been five,” said Lee, of Australia, who won the championship at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif.
“When you’re on tour and you’re having fun, time definitely flies,” said Ko, who lost in the semifinal round to eventual runner-up Alison Lee.
Ko, now 21, has certainly had fun – and success – since that 64th U.S. Girls’ Junior ended, five years ago last week. She captured the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship two weeks later, then dominated the game as few others have at such a young age. Ko won five professional events while still an amateur, the first one at age 14, and after turning professional in October 2013, she reeled off 10 LPGA Tour wins more quickly than anyone in history, eclipsing Nancy Lopez’s record by 3½ years.
Ko’s own record as the youngest player to win a pro event was broken later that year by Brooke Henderson, who also competed in that Girls’ Junior.
“It was a strong field,” noted Lee, 21, of Perth, who led Australia to the 2014 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship before turning professional. “I think that U.S. Girls’ was the first time I met pretty much everyone and played with a lot of the girls. That was pretty cool.”
Ariya Jutanugarn, who would go on to battle Ko and Henderson for world No. 1 and LPGA Player of the Year in 2016, was the defending Girls’ Junior champion in 2012, having defeated Dottie Ardina in the previous year’s final at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. She earned medalist honors for the second consecutive year, edging Ko by three strokes, before losing to Minjee Lee in the semifinals, 2 and 1.
Alison Lee, who would go on to win the Annika Award as the top female college player in the country for UCLA in 2014, was making her sixth and last Girls’ Junior start. She defeated Maddie Szeryk and Su Oh, both of whom competed in the 2017 Women’s Open, as well as future USGA champions Mika Liu and Lauren Diaz-Yi, before toppling Ko, 2 and 1, in the semifinals.
“The girls I knew were Minjee and Su Oh from Australia, because I hadn’t played a lot of tournaments in the U.S. yet,” said Ko, who moved to Auckland at age 5 from the Republic of Korea. “That was only my second or third USGA event, and it was just a great field, with a very exciting final. It’s really cool that a lot of those girls who I played alongside in that field are now with me playing on tour, like Meghan [Khang], Minjee and Alison.”
That glowing semifinal group of Minjee and Alison Lee, Ko and Jutanugarn offered a glimpse of the talent that led to the players’ future accomplishments – 27 LPGA Tour victories and four majors so far as a group. But they were not alone. Fellow competitors in the field would go on to capture several USGA championships, including U.S. Women’s Amateur champions Kristen Gillman (2014) and Hannah O’Sullivan (2015); Girls’ Junior winners Gabriella Then (2013), Princess Mary Superal (2014) and Doris Chen (2010); U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champions Taylor Totland (2017), Liu and Rinko Mitsunaga (both 2015); as well as six USGA championship runners-up (Henderson among them) and several future Curtis Cup competitors.
Alison Lee, who went on to compete for the USA in both the Curtis Cup (2014) and the Solheim Cup (2015), was 3 up on Minjee Lee – no relation – in that championship match with six to play, before the Aussie stormed back for a 1-up victory. Minjee still calls her clinching 4-foot par putt on the final green the biggest thrill of her career, which now includes three victories on the LPGA Tour.
“I thought I was going to lose, honestly,” she said at the time. “I was like, how do I get back up from here?”
Lee returned to Lake Merced a few years later as a professional for the LPGA’s Swinging Skirts event, and was thrilled to be recognized by several people at the club while also noting the plaque that commemorates her accomplishment.
“It was my first time in the States, and I didn’t know anyone except for Su [Oh],” said Lee. “It was such a good atmosphere, because every USGA event is run so well. Because it was my first event, I didn’t have any expectations going into it.”
Ko, who had already won a professional event in Australia by the time she played in that Girls’ Junior, met the high expectations of her world No. 1 amateur ranking a couple of weeks later at The Country Club in Cleveland, defeating Jaye Marie Green in the U.S. Women’s Amateur final.
“I go back to playing in the final with Jaye Marie, and now we’re both on tour,” said Ko. “It’s cool that you’re amongst the girls that you played a lot of amateur golf with. After a while, you end up being good friends, and I think that’s the great thing about our tour. Everybody is really friendly and we all get along.”
And Ko perhaps got a small measure of revenge for 2012 by going back to Lake Merced and twice winning the LPGA event there, birdieing the final hole to edge Stacy Lewis by one stroke in 2014, then defeating Morgan Pressel in a playoff a year later, two days after her 18th birthday.
That 2012 Girls’ Junior was certainly a sign of things to come – and of things yet to come.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.