Haley Moore (SCGA photo)
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Sixteen-year-old Haley Moore, an AmateurGolf.com member, was the only amateur to make the cut this week at the ANA Inspiration. The event, formally known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship, is the first major of the LPGA Tour season.
Moore, of Escondido, went 73-74 to make the cut on the number before posting 73-74 again over the weekend. Her 72-hole total of six-over 294 earned her a T67 finish, beating out five professionals.
Five other amateurs were invited to play at Mission Hills Country Club, including three other Californians — Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar, Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, and Mika Liu of Beverly Hills.
In what was her third appearance in the ANA Inspiration Champions Junior Challenge, 16-year-old Haley Moore of Escondido ran away from the rest of the field to capture the victory, shooting a 5-under-par 67 on the Palmer Course at Mission Hills CC. With the win, Haley receives the final amateur exemption into this week's ANA Inspiration, the LPGA's first major of the year.
"I'm really excited," said Haley. "This is more than I could have dreamed of."
The 2015 Junior Challenge field was a strong one, with defending champion Lilia Vu of Fountain Valley and 2013 winner Angel Yin both looking to earn their way back into the ANA Inspiration. But Haley, who finished in the top 10 in last year's event but faltered down the stretch, kept it together this year, utilizing the the help of mentor Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
"Because I had a few mistake holes last year, I really just kept reminding myself to stay calm," said Haley. "Patricia was really helpful, just making me smile and reminding me to play my own game."
The juniors in the event are paired with past ANA Inspiration Champions for their round. The LPGA legends act as mentors for the day, and in addition to 2003 ANA Inspiration Champion Meunier-Lebouc, former LPGA stars Nancy Lopez, Kathy Whitworth, Pat Bradley, Amy Alcott and more were involved in the day.
“We are thrilled to welcome Haley to the ANA Inspiration,” said Takashi Shiki, Executive Vice President, Marketing & Sales, CS & Products Services at ANA. “Now that the Champions Junior Challenge is complete our week is truly underway and we are more excited than ever to host the best female golfers in the world alongside some of the game’s brightest young amateurs. Haley’s win today with the guiding support of former champion Patricia Meunier-Lebouc is already an inspiring start to the week and the start new era for the championship and ANA.”
Haley, who began the day on hole No. 10, started out in the middle of the pack, securing pars on her first four holes. She'd make the turn in 1-under-par before putting together a stretch of holes that all but clinched victory. After a birdie on 18, Haley would eagle No. 1, birdie No. 2 and birdie No. 3 to get to -5 for the day and separate herself from the rest of the pack by four strokes. She'd remain there at the conclusion of the round, with Angel earning a second place finish at 1-under-par 71.
"I was about 120 yards out on the first hole and hit a good shot, but I couldn't really see it," said Haley of her eagle. "One of my spectators shouted out that it had gone in, which was really cool."
With the win, Haley becomes the sixth amateur in the field for the 2015 ANA Inspiration, joining fellow SCGA members and past Junior Challenge participants Andrea Lee and Bethany Wu. The tournament is contested on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills CC, a layout that has already produced a win for Haley at AJGA's ClubCorp Mission Hills Desert Junior golf tournament, where she shot a 4-under-par 68 in June.
"I got to jump into Poppie's Pond at the end of that tournament just like the pros do at the ANA Inspiration, so to be able to now come back and play in the pro event is incredible," said Haley.
In the coinciding team competition, legend Donna Caponi led her team to victory, earning $10,000 for the charity of her choice. Caponi, whose team consisted of Angel, Brittany Park and Malia Ebersberger, chose to donate her winnings to The Independence Fund, a non-profit dedicated to helping Wounded Warriors.
The ANA Inspiration Championship Junior Challenge is run by SCGA Youth on Course, which provides tournament support, rules officials and leads the junior selection committee for the event, which began in 2012. The past two years, the Junior Challenge winner has gone on to make the cut in the ANA Inspiration, formally known as the KNC Championship.