Golf

Jo, 15, wins U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in first attempt

As tickled as China’s Fumie “Alice” Jo was by winning the 38th and final U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title Saturday, it still won’t be the highlight of her 21/2-month summer stay in the United States.

Getting a second chance to go to Universal Studios in California with her friends is.

“They said if I got to the final, everyone will go again with me,” Jo said. “They said anytime I want.”

Jo has earned it. The underdog as the No. 27 seed in her first United States Golf Association national championship, Jo never trailed in upending long-hitting top seed Eun Jeong Seong of Korea, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole championship match at The Home Course in DuPont.

Jo, 15, is the second-youngest winner of the tournament. American Michelle Wie was 13 when she won it in 2003 in Florida.

Also, the teenager is the first golfer from mainland China to win a USGA national championship.

“In China, everyone will be talking about this,” Jo said. “I am really happy I won it.”

Jo is one of those gifted yet humble, down-to-earth, carefree teenagers followers of golf can really root for.

For starters, the United States is Jo’s second home. She lived in New York with her parents for three years almost a decade ago. In 2013, she returned with a group of teenagers and coaches as part of Yani Tseng’s summer camp to play American Junior Golf Association tournaments, including the inaugural Ryan Moore Junior Championship at RMG Club at Oakbrook.

In May, she did the same thing, eventually earning a spot in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Her mother, Joy, was part of the group.

“I actually missed America very much since last year,” Jo said. “Mom said I could spend the summer (here).”

This week, Joy and Alice Jo have stayed with a host family — Mike and Kathleen Mays of University Place.

“Last Thursday, we picked them up at Sea-Tac (Airport),” Kathleen Mays said. “And Alice shows up with this California accent.”

Jo was virtually unheard of when she arrived. Lauren Diaz-Yi was the defending champion. Doris Chen, the reigning NCAA Division I champion from USC, was thought to be the favorite. Once the week unfolded, an enormous amount of buzz followed Seong, 14, who dazzled galleries with her long drives.

With her mom as the caddie, Jo quietly went about her business.

“They are very intelligent. They are very funny and laugh all the time,” Mays said. “When she gets in the car (to go to the course), she is giggling and says goodbye to the dog. Then she puts on the headphones and she goes into (a zone).”

Against Seong in the finals, Jo took a 2-up lead after the morning round. But after lunch, the wind kicked up with gusts of almost 20 mph.

“I was really nervous at the beginning … of the second round,” Jo said. “I knew she was going to play aggressively and go for the flags.”

Seong slowly began working her way back into the match. She hit her tee shot to within 4 feet at the par-3 sixth hole for a birdie. After Jo three-putted from 40 feet for bogey, Seong won another hole and was only 1-down.

But after Jo made a nifty up and down from in front of the ninth green for par to halve the hole, all of Seong’s momentum halted.

“I started to relax more and just play normal,” Jo said.

That meant winning holes with stellar wedge play and putting. She won the 10th hole when she hit a wedge shot from 50 yards within inches of the cup for a tap-in birdie.

After Seong failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker at the 12th hole, missing a 12-footer for par, Jo’s lead ballooned to 3-up.

Jo lost the next hole. Walking to the 14th tee, Jo asked her mother an important question.

“She told me, ‘Mom, why do I always win one hole and I have to give back a hole to (Seong) — am I OK?’ ” Joy Jo said. “And I said: ‘Yeah, you are OK. You are a big girl. You are strong.’ ”

On the 14th green, a rejuvenated Jo rolled in a 14-footer for birdie to take her final 3-up advantage.

Two holes later, on the final par 5, Jo coaxed her short birdie putt next to the hole. Seong conceded a par for a halve, which clinched the title for Jo.

“I was 8-under for stroke play (in the second round) and putted exceptionally,” Seong said. “I can’t play that well every round. There are ups and downs. I have a lot to work on.”

As for Jo, she was noticeably fatigued after three consecutive days of playing 36 holes. She was ready to take on a water park Sunday and then tackle the roller coaster at Universal Studios in the coming weeks.

“I am ready for some fun,” Jo said.

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