With competitive course record, Saso takes early Girls' Jr lead
Yuka Saso (USGA/Steve Gibbons)
Yuka Saso (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

This is quickly turning into the summer of Yuka Saso. The 18-year-old from the Philippines is off to a strong start in the U.S. Girls’ Junior at SentryWord in Stevens Point, Wis., after carding a 7-under 65 in the first round of stroke play on Monday.

So far in 2019, Saso has finished T-3 at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open and won the Girls’ Junior PGA Championship. She is the No. 24-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Saso’s opening 65 was one of three bogey-free rounds among all 144 competitors to start the Girls’ Junior. She set a new competitive course record at SentryWorld, which was a bit soggy on Monday after getting just over three inches of rain early in the weekend.

“I wasn’t really thinking about [my win at the Girls PGA],” said Saso, one of six players in the field to compete in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). “I’m just trying to get to know the course well. I’m really happy.”

This is Saso’s fourth U.S. Girls’ Junior, but she hasn’t ever advanced past the Round of 32. She did reach the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa.

“I am just focusing on what I have to do [on Tuesday],” said Saso. “The next day is my goal.”

Like in Saso’s case, it’s not hard at this point of the summer to identify the next up-and-comer. Nicole Adam, who is in a tie for second after an opening 4-under 68, also fits into that category. Adam, 17, has already had quite a summer. She finished third in the inaugural Donna Andrews Invitational, then made match play at last week’s Women’s North & South. She lost in the first round after drawing eventual champion Gabriela Ruffels (but still took Ruffels to the 17th hole).

Adam briefly got to 5 under on Monday before suffering consecutive bogeys on 12 and 13. She closed her round with a 40-foot birdie on 17.

“I played five holes during Saturday's [first-official] practice round [prior to the suspension of play], and the whole 18 yesterday,” Adam said. “It's a really nice course. The bent greens really fit my eye. I am from Ohio and I played on bent greens there.”

Bae, a rising high school junior who has already committed to play for Duke University in 2021, birdied three of the four par-5 holes. Her final birdie came on No. 17 when she converted a 15-footer.

“I think my putting worked really well on the back nine,” said Bae. “On the front nine, I struggled a little bit, but I came back, so I’m happy.”

Ye, 18, of the People’s Republic of China, who is headed to Stanford this fall and was the runner-up in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship with partner Ya-Chun Chang, holed a 12-footer for birdie on 18 to post her 68. She said her wedge game from 80 to 100 yards out was strong on Monday, giving her plenty of birdie opportunities.

“Some dropped and some didn’t,” said Ye. “That’s just the way it is.”

A pair of Girls’ Junior stalwarts, 2017 champion Erica Shepherd and last year’s runner-up Alexa Pano, had rounds of 74 and 75, respectively, and are hovering near the match-play cut line with one round to play.

Quotes and information from the USGA used in this report

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ABOUT THE U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur

The Girls Junior Amateur is one of 14 national championships conducted by the USGA. The event is open to female golfers who have not reached their 19th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 9.4. 36 hole stroke play qualifying from which 64 players advance to match play. Regional qualifying held at sites around the United States.

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