Monday marked the beginning of the now 42-year-old LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship, and the event began with a one-day tournament featuring California’s top young amateur female golfers.
The prize for the winner of the KNC Champions Junior Challenge: the final qualifying spot in the major championship’s field.
This year marked only the third anniversary of this new tradition and offered 39 excited young golfers—selected by a committee of the Southern California Golf Association—a special opportunity. Two of the talented amateurs—15-year-old Jiyoon Jang, of Rancho Mirage, and 17-year-old Mackenzie Raim, of Palm Desert—are locally grown, and both were members of the Palm Desert High School varsity girls’ golf team.
Each team of three players was accompanied by a previous winner of the prestigious Kraft Nabisco Championship, which was founded by Dinah Shore back in 1972. This year’s champion coach squad included, among many others, LPGA legends like Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Amy Alcott and Pat Bradley, who mentored Jiyoon Jang’s team as the players made their way around the Arnold Palmer Course at the Mission Hills Country Club.
“These young ladies are the future of our game,” said Bradley, the winner of the 1986 tournament, at the end of the round. “This game has given me so much, and to help these young ladies today was a great thrill for me.”
Jiyoon Jang shot a 3-over-par 75 on the day, and finished in a tie for 17th, five strokes behind the winner.
“I could have made a few more putts and gotten a few more chips, but this was an unforgettable memory for me,” she said after her round. “Pat Bradley said to us on the first tee that it’s not life and death—it’s just a game, honestly. I’m just going to take one shot at a time and just keep going.”
Bradley said she was impressed by the 15-year-old golfer.
“Miss Jang played great,” Bradley said. “I was very proud of her. She missed a couple of putts that I know she thought she’d made, and of course, this game can beat you up if you’re not careful.”
Bradley noted that Jang finished strong. “I was very pleased to see her stay positive, and when she made an eagle on 18, that was her reward for staying positive today.”
Jang said that eagle was the highlight of her round. “I wasn’t really going in to make an eagle. I just hit my fairway wood and tried to keep a smooth tempo. Then when I hit my putt, I just stuck with my line, and it dropped right in the center of the hole. It was really exciting, because Pat Bradley just started cheering and screaming.”
Meanwhile, Jang’s Palm Desert High teammate, Mackenzie Raim, enjoyed an even-par 72 finish, which put her in a tie for fifth. Lilia Vu, of Fountain Valley, was the winner at -2.
All in all, not a bad day for the local challengers. Scroll down to view an image gallery.