Two years ago, Aree Wongluekiet's goal during a round of golf was to break 80. Today, she became the youngest USGA champion in history.
Wongluekiet, a 13-year-old from Bradenton, Fla., defeated 16-year-old Nancy Abiecunas of Fort Collins, Colo., 2 up, in an 18-hole match-play final to win the 51st U.S. Girls' Junior Championship at Green Spring Valley Hunt Club. Wongluekiet broke by 16 months the record held by Kay Cornelius, who won the 1981 title at age 14.
"It feels very good actually, but I was a little nervous because I had to talk in front of the people," said Wongluekiet, who won her fifth tournament of the summer. "It is probably the highlight of my summer. One of my goals was to win a USGA event."
Her father, In-Jong Song, who moved the family from Chaingmai, Thailand, to Florida so that his children--Aree, her twin sister Naree and her older brother Chan--could attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, seemed stunned by his daughter's victory.
"At 13, I can't imagine what she's done," he said. Some in the crowd of 650 who walked the final 18 holes were comparing Wongluekiet to Tiger Woods. However, her emotionless, precise performance this past week more resembled David Duval.
Nowhere was that more evident than the final nine holes. All week, Wongluekiet had been at her best during the latter stages of the match, vigilant in protecting her lead.
Wongluekiet never trailed by more than one hole during the tournament, but was down two holes after No. 7. Abiecunas, who did not miss a fairway or a green on the front nine, birdied Nos. 2 and 4 and made an eagle on No. 6.
But Abiecunas missed several birdie opportunities.
"I don't think I had a putt outside 15 feet [on the front nine], but I just couldn't make any," she said. "If I putted well today, I would have been able to get a head up on the front nine to build momentum."
Instead, Abiecunas watched her lead melt away when her putt from three feet lipped out on No. 11. That made the match even. Then Abiecunas hit her ball into the water on No. 12 and conceded the hole, handing Wongluekiet the lead.
Abiecunas's best chance to bring the match back to all square was on No. 17. But she missed an eight-foot birdie putt when the ball circled the cup and popped out.