LIMERICK – To the surprise of absolutely no one, Conestoga’s Samantha Yao didn’t break a sweat en route to successfully defending her district girls’ class 3A golf title on Wednesday at Turtle Creek Golf Club.
The junior notched the only sub-par round of the day to trounce the rest of the field at the District 1 Golf Championship. Yao’s nearest competitors were Liddie McCook of Downingtown East and Sophia Mancuso of Central Bucks East, who finished nine shots back.
“I won it last year, so with that in mind, I knew I could do it again,” Yao said. “I felt a little pressure (as defending champ), but it’s going to be like that in a tournament like this no matter what.”
Playing on a more difficult venue than the day before, Yao carded a 1-under-par 71, which was six shots better than the nearest competitor. Combined with a 74 on Tuesday at Gilbertsville Golf Club, her two-day, 32-hole total was 2-over 145.
“Last year I shot 69 here in districts,” Yao said. “I’ve always played pretty well here.”
Including Yao, a total of eight 3A golfers advanced to the PIAA Regionals, which will take place on Oct. 16 at Golden Oaks Golf Club in Fleetwood. Villa Maria’s Brooke Sander (98-97 – 195) was the lone qualifier from class 2A.
“The girls are getting so much better overall, even from last year,” said Wissahickon’s Cristea Park.
Park (79-76 – 155) was one of the regional qualifiers, but the junior had the day’s top highlight: the first hole-in-one of her golfing career. The rest of the qualifiers include McCook (76-78 – 154); Mancuso (75-79 – 154); Central Bucks South’s Lizzie Palmieri (76-80 – 156); Unionville’s Charlotte Scully (82-77 – 159); Great Valley’s Liv Juliana (80-80 – 160) and Mt. St. Joseph’s Clare Gimpel (89-81 – 161).
“My main goal for regionals is to qualify and get to states, and I would really love to have a (state) championship,” said Yao, who plays out of White Manor Country Club and has been playing golf for a decade, since age eight.
Yao toured the 5,827-yard, par-72 layout with two birdies, 15 pars and one bogey, which came on her final hole and the outcome already assured. McCook and Mancuso were in her foursome on Wednesday and were undoubtedly impressed.
“(Yao) hits the ball pure and makes no mistakes. I think she missed two greens and if that happened, it seemed like she would just make a long putt to save par,” Mancuso said.
“I’ve been playing with Sam for a couple years, and we are really close. We just played in a four-ball tournament the other day,” McCook added.
“She is an amazing player. She is so solid. When it comes to the tournaments and she needs to play well, she does it. She played lights out (Wednesday).”
Starting on the 10th hole, Yao moved under par with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 13th. Momentum picked up when she made a 30-footer to save par at the first hole after driving into a bunker and chunking it out. It was the only green she missed in regulation all day.
“I’ve been working on my swing a little bit and my putting has gone down lately,” Yao said. “I really want to get those lag-up putts close and maybe drop a few.”
Buoyed by the results at No. 1, Yao came right back on the very next hole and made another similarly long putt, this time for a birdie.
“It was nice to see those drop,” she said.
McCook registered 13 pars, including seven on her first nine holes, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with Yao.
“My chipping was solid and I could count on that,” said McCook, a junior. “I hit one drive out of bounds, but other than that I felt confident off the tee. I just need to work on my putting.”
Just a shot back at the start of the day, Mancuso managed to birdie two of her first four holes, but the junior was unable to keep it going.
“I started off shaky, the middle got me going, but I kind of struggled through the last nine,” Mancuso explained. “I didn’t hit as many greens as I wanted to and my putter never really connected for me today.”
If there was any doubt about Park being able to advance, it was erased when she finished her round with an ace on the 162-yard 9th hole.
“The 6-iron was perfect and I was feeling good about it,” Park recalled. “I saw it land on the green and it just kept rolling with the slope. Then I saw it go in, and I just heard screams.
“I was in shock, so I didn’t really do anything. I saw my Dad (Young Park) yelling, but it didn’t process until a minute or two later.”
Just a freshman, Scully won the Ches-Mont crown a week earlier and was able to overcome a first round 82. Gimpel edged Pennsbury’s Jade Gu in a playoff for the eighth and final qualifying spot.
District 1 Girls Golf Championship
Par-72 at Turtle Creek GC
- Yao (Conestoga) 74-71 – 145; 2. McCook (Downingtown East) 76-78 – 154; 2. Mancuso (C.B. East) 75-79 – 154; 4. Park (Wissahickon) 79-76 – 155; 5. Palmieri (C.B. South) 76-80 – 156; 6. Scully (Unionville) 82-77 – 159; 7. Juliana (Great Valley) 80-80 – 160; 8. Gimpel (Mt. St. Joseph) 80-81 – 161.
- Brooke Sander (Villa Maria) 98-97 – 195.