fri us girls - bourdage putt point.jpg

Jillian Bourdage had other ideas about where her ball should go on this putt during semifinal play Friday in the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship.

STEVENS POINT — Jillian Bourdage didn’t realize she has not trailed in 83 holes of match play at the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. She forgot that the winner is exempt from qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. She barely noticed a back-nine downpour during her semifinal match Friday.

And she definitely hasn’t stopped to smell the flowers on the famous par-3 16th hole at SentryWorld.

Bourdage, 17, of Tamarac, Fla., is in the zone, and if she stays there for one more long day of golf, there’s a good chance she’ll emerge as the champion.

“Honestly, just the whole experience this week, it’s just been amazing,” she said. “The thought of winning has crossed my mind, but I can’t think that far ahead. Right now, I’ve got to think one shot at a time and as of now I’m just thinking about that first tee shot (Saturday morning).”

Bourdage, the last remaining player in the field with Wisconsin ties – her mother was born in Manitowoc and she has family in the Appleton area – earned her spot in the 36-hole final by upsetting medalist and top-seeded Yuka Saso of the Philippines, 2 up, in one semifinal Friday afternoon.

In the other semifinal, 18-year-old Lei Ye of the People’s Republic of China defeated Nicole Whiston of San Diego, 3 and 2.

Bourdage, who has committed to attend Ohio State in 2020, and Ye, an incoming freshman at Stanford University, will meet in the championship match starting at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. After 18 holes, the match will resume at 11:15 a.m., with FS1’s broadcast starting at 1 p.m.

Bourdage, No. 837 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, admitted that the prospect of playing for the title was “a little scary,” but said she has gained confidence with each match, including a 2 and 1 victory over Lauren Beaudreau of Lemont, Ill., in the quarterfinals earlier Friday.

“I think you’ve got to accept that there could be any outcome,” Bourdage said. “Yes, I could win. Yes, I might not win. I’ve got to prepare myself mentally for both. I’ve got to let the golf course take me where it needs to.”

She was 2-up after 13 holes in her match with Saso, but three-putted for a bogey on No. 14 and made another bogey on No. 15 after missing the green and failing to get up and down. The match remained tied until Bourdage rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th.

“That one felt really good,” she said. “I had a putt similar to that this morning from around 12 feet for birdie and that’s how I won my first match, too. I knew the read. I just had to trust myself and not blow it by 6 feet. I just had to get the pacing right on that one.

“That felt extraordinary. I can’t even describe how amazing it felt to make that putt.”

She then hit her 4-hybrid approach from 174 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the par-4 18th. Saso also hit a nice shot from the right rough, but missed for birdie from 10 feet. With Bourdage just needing to two-putt for the victory, Saso conceded the match.

Bourdage has never trailed in any of her five matches.

“I didn’t realize I haven’t been down at all,” she said. “I guess I’ve been starting out really strong and I’ve been trying to keep my foot on the gas pedal the entire time. I didn’t even realize that, but good to know.”

But what about that pelting rain? Wasn’t it a distraction on the back nine?

“Once I’m over the ball, I really zone into what I’m doing,” Bourdage said. “I don’t hear anyone moving in the background or see any people moving in the background. It’s just me and the ball. I don’t think the rain affected me that much. I’m from Florida, too, so it rains a lot.”

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Lei Ye of China watches her tee shot on the fourth hole during Friday’s semifinals.

Ye, No. 69 in the WAGR, birdied the first three holes for a 3-up advantage over Whiston, an incoming freshman at the University of Tennessee.

Whiston won the fourth hole with a par and the fifth with a birdie to cut the deficit to 1 up, but Ye halted her momentum with a winning par on No. 8 and a birdie on No. 11 to regain her 3-up lead. A winning par on the 14th pushed her lead to 4-up with four to play. Whiston delayed the inevitable with a birdie on No. 15 before the match ended on the flower hole when the players tied with 3s.

“Definitely a lot easier than when I was only 1-up, or 1-down at one point earlier this week,” Ye said. “I think it’s a little bit less pressure knowing if I made good pars and maybe a birdie or two, that will be enough, that I’m not coming from behind and forced to make a bunch of birdies to make up for it.”

Ye will have a comfort level in the championship match with 16-year-old Rose Zhang of Irvine, Calif., as her caddie. Zhang lost 2-up to Saso in the quarterfinals, but volunteered to carry Ye’s bag the rest of the way.

“Angelina (Ye) is a great friend,” Zhang said. “Since I have verbally committed to Stanford and she is going there this fall, we’ll be future teammates. I’ll be with her all 36 holes tomorrow – and, hopefully, shorter.”

Said Ye, “I worked great with my caddie (earlier) this week, but Rose, having played the course, definitely knows it a little better and she’s got a player’s point of view, too. … I’m going to tell her that her job tomorrow is to keep me relaxed, chat with me and have fun with me out there.”

Bourdage, seeded fifth, will be playing in her second U.S. Golf Association championship match of 2019, having lost with partner Casey Weidenfeld in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball final. Ironically, Ye also lost in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball final in 2018 with partner Yu Chun Chang.

One of them will leave SentryWorld with the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy, along with exemptions for the next two U.S. Women’s Amateurs and an exemption for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. The loser also gets a spot in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, but only for this year.

“I feel super excited about tomorrow,” Bourdage said.” I just want to go out and play some golf and enjoy the game I love.”

Results from Friday's Quarterfinals at the 2019 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, played at 6,181-yard par-72 SentryWorld.

Yuka Saso, Philippines def. Rose Zhang, Irvine, Calif., 2 up
Jillian Bourdage, Tamarac, Fla. def Lauren Beaudreau, Lemont, Ill., 2 and 1 
Lei Ye, People' Republic of China def. Brooke Seay, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., 1 up
Nicole Whiston, San Diego, Calif. def. Briana Chacon, Whitier, Calif., 1 up

Results from Friday's Semifinals at the 2019 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, played at 6,181-yard par-72 SentryWorld.

Jillian Bourdage, Tamarac, Fla. def. Yuka Saso, Philippines, 2 up
Lei Ye, People's Republic of China def. Nicole Whiston, San Diego, Calif., 3 and 2

Pairings and tee times for Saturday's 36-hole sixth round of match play at the 2019 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, played at 6,2181yard, par-72 SentryWorld.

6:30 a.m. - Jillian Bourdage, Tamarac, Fla. vs. Lei Ye, People's Republic of China

Gary has covered golf in Wisconsin since 1980 and is a multiple award winner in the GWAA writing contest. He was inducted into the WSGA Hall of Fame in 2017 and joined Wisconsin.Golf in 2018 after a distinguished career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.