U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Yealimi Leaving Noh Doubt About Place Among World’s Best
August 5, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn.
By Bill Fields
Yealimi Noh’s longtime instructor, Erik Stone, kept telling her that great results would start happening, that her hard work soon would pay off.
“She’d have two or three really good rounds but one that held her back,” said Stone, who has been coaching the 17-year-old Northern Californian since she was 9. “I said to just stay patient. Everybody’s different, and it’s all going to click when it clicks.”
Noh listened, and in a marvelous stretch of golf last month that makes her one of the hottest players in the sport, she delivered on Stone’s prediction.
Her play was so good over three consecutive weeks – victories in the Girls Junior PGA Championship, the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship – even Stone was a bit surprised everything in her game coalesced so well.
“It’s been trending the right way,” said the Alameda, Calif.-based coach, “but three in a row was big.”
Noh’s hot streak, preceded by her second victory in the California Girls’ State Championship in late June, places her at the forefront of players to watch this week in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Golf Club of Tennessee, a golfer with momentum after what already has been a summer to remember. She is making her second U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance, having lost in the Round of 64 two years ago to Nasa Hataoka, of Japan, now a young star on the LPGA Tour.
“I’m liking where my game is right now. I’m pretty confident,” Noh said. “This is what I’ve been working toward. Everything is paying off from the hard work and setting my goals high.”
The rising high school senior from Concord, where parents Brian and Kim run a Japanese fusion restaurant – a sushi roll is named for Yealimi, although she prefers cooked seafood – is on a fast career track, with plans to turn professional sometime in 2019. Noh has already earned a spot in next year’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) by virtue of her U.S. Girls’ Junior victory, provided she remains an amateur.
“The only way you become the best is to beat the best,” Stone said. “I sat her down and said, if turning pro early is something you want to do, you’ve got to start winning stuff.”
Noh, who turned 17 on July 26, closed out 2017 by winning the Joanne Winter Arizona Silver Belle Championship, a high-caliber event that boasts champions such as five-time major winner and 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Yani Tseng and long-hitting Angel Yin, the runner-up in the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior. Earlier this season, Noh won the Hana Financial Group Se Ri Pak Junior before starting her summer tear.
“She likes to prove people wrong,” Stone said. “Aside from hitting it great and putting it great, and her length, she is mean. When she gets you down, she wants to keep you down. Then she’ll be your best friend.”
Not a lot of kids have played as well as Noh did in winning the Girls Junior PGA, that’s for sure. Noh opened with 66-65-64 at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Ky., then closed with a 69 to win by four strokes and finish the 72-hole competion with a tournament-record 24-under 264.
A week later at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif., Noh survived a week of fog delays and a 49-hole final day to defeat 13-year-old Alexa Pano in the championship match. That same day, she eliminated Gina Kim, 3 and 2. That week at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, her confidence grew with each victory.
“Match play hasn’t been one of my strong suits, but I kept advancing,” said Noh. “Match play is so much more mental than stroke play, very different. I had a lot of great par saves, and pars are so important in match play. I just tried to think of it as stroke play – if you score well, you can win.”
Noh showed her resolve even before the Canadian Women’s Amateur began at Marine Drive Golf Club in Vancouver, as she overcame fatigue in edging University of Arkansas All-American Dylan Kim by one stroke in the 72-hole competition.
“I was playing a practice round and was so tired I didn’t even want to play,” Noh said. “I was about to withdraw, I was so tired. But I fought through it. I wasn’t expecting much. If I was top five or top 10, I would have been happy with that. Once you’re in the tournament rounds, though, you kind of forget you’re tired and get in the tournament mode, in the zone.”
This figures to be another long, taxing week of golf, but Noh has proven she is up to the challenge.
“She’s the real deal,” Stone said. “She’s got everything she needs to succeed.”
The golf world is finding that out very quickly.
Bills Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to USGA websites.