FLEETWOOD >> With five players were vying for the final three spots to earn a berth at next week’s PIAA Championships, Conestoga’s Samantha Yao was strolling casually on the cartpath as she watched the players come down the No. 18 fairway.
My, the difference a year can make.
A year after she missed the cut as a result of a one-hole playoff, Yao captured the PIAA-AAA East Region Championship at Golden Oaks Golf Club title Monday with a 1-under 71.
“Last year was really tough,” she said. “I was so close, but just missed going to states. It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to end my season.”
Yao posted six birdies and five bogeys en route to finishing four strokes better than the rest of the field Monday. She opened her round with a pair of birdies on the first two holes, then closed out the frontside with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to put her at 2-under.
Radnor’s Gabby Kim finished tied with Emmaus’ Samantha Fritzinger and Manheim Township’s Ellen Wagner for second place at 3-over 75.
Just a few days after capturing the District One title at Turtle Creek, Yao brought with her a similar approach to Golden Oaks. Hardly a risk-taker, Yao trusted her short game throughout, flirting with about 30 putts for her round.
“My putter definitely saved me a few times,” said Yao. “Being aggressive is just not my style, so I was sticking my shots close and making a lot of good par putts.”
With last year’s finish still fresh on his mind, Conestoga head coach John Jones was pleased to see Yao make it out of regionals.
“We’re really happy she’s got a chance to compete at states,” said Jones. “The playoffs are tough to get through, especially as a freshman. She deserves everything she earned today.”
June Kim, sister of Gabby, will also be heading up to Heritage Hills for next week’s state tournament after shooting a 7-over 79. Wissahickon’s Cristea Park survived the playoff hole to earn a state playoff bid after posting a 10-over 82.