RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Cindy Kou of Windermere, Florida, earned the final amateur exemption into golf’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, by winning the American Junior Golf Association’s ANA Junior Inspiration in a three-hole playoff at Mission Hills Country Club.
Kou ended 54 holes in a tie at 4-under-par 212 with Joyce Jin of (China) Encinitas, California. The duo battled No. 18 for extra holes for the first time in the event’s eight-year history; Kou parred the final playoff hole to Jin’s bogey after a bunker shot off the tee to earn her first LPGA start.
“I didn’t really go into the week thinking that I was going to win, I was just trying to play my shots,” said Kou, a three-time Rolex Junior All-American. “I’m really excited. It’s amazing I can play my first major as an amateur. I want to thank ANA for all their support for women’s golf and junior golf and for this opportunity.”
The victory puts the nine-time AJGA champion in elite company and tied for 12th on the AJGA’s all-time wins list with 2013 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Alison Lee (2007-2013), 1991 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Emilee Klein (1990-1992) and 2001 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Elizabeth Janangelo (1999-2002).
Kou celebrated her inspired win on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course by jumping into Poppie’s Pond with 1998 ANA Inspiration champion Pat Hurst.
Hurst, a non-swimmer who famously waded into the water during her own moment at the ANA Inspiration, jumped with Kou with no fear this time. The LPGA Legend, who played alongside Kou and Yuka Saso of Manila, Philippines, during the final round as part of the event’s unique format, watched the final holes of the playoff from the bridge over to No. 18 green.
The final-round leaderboard shuffled during the final 18 holes with 2018 ANA Junior Inspiration champion Rose Zhang of Irvine, California, in the hunt. The 15-year-old finished third at 3-under-par 213 in her third appearance at the event and, alongside other top finishers, showered Kou with water after her final putt to celebrate a new champion.
“After an inspired weekend of golf during the ANA Junior Inspiration, we are excited to invite Cindy for the final starting spot in golf’s first major of the year – the historic ANA Inspiration,” said Mr. Hideki Kunugi, Senior Vice President of the Americas, ANA. “Our vision to expand the ANA Junior Inspiration from a local, to national and now international event with the help of the AJGA was founded on a shared vision to grow the future of women’s golf and provide new opportunities for these amazing young players at one of the most famous venues in the game.”
Jin knotted things up down the stretch in her second appearance at the ANA Junior Inspiration. The Rolex Junior All-American and AJGA champion’s runner-up finish was her 11th AJGA top-seven finish in three years.
In a tie for fourth were Pauline Roussin Bouchard of Carqueiranne, France, an international invitee based on the WAGR Rankings, and Megan Schofill of Monticello, Florida, at 2-under-par 214. Roussin Bouchard, committed to University of South Carolina, had a previous career-best AJGA finish at the 2019 ANNIKA Invitational USA presented by Rolex. Schofill, a verbal commit to Auburn University, is a first-team Rolex Junior All-American and three-time AJGA champion.
Kou added her name to an impressive list of past champions of the ANA Junior Inspiration including an AJGA all-star cast: 2013 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Alison Lee (2012), Angel Yin (2013), Lilia Vu (2014), Haley Moore (2015) 2014 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Andrea Lee (2016), Lucy Li (2017) and Rose Zhang (2018).
Prior to its association with the AJGA in 2017, the ANA Junior Inspiration operated as an 18-hole qualifier for Southern California-based juniors to earn a spot into the major championship field. The Southern California Golf Association (SCGA), Fresh & Easy and ANA Inspiration champion Amy Alcott worked together to lay the foundation for this game-changing girls’ tournament.
As a part of the LPGA Legends field dynamic, the 48 junior golfers learned from and were mentored by the women who created the foundation of women’s golf, including a few who’ve been exactly in their shoes as AJGA players, like Hurst. Final-round pairings featured two juniors in each group with one of 24 LPGA Legends competing in a fun group Best Ball competition. Amy Alcott’s team of Zhang and Bohyun Park of (South Korea) Farmers Branch, Texas, won the third annual competition. Past winners were Betsy King (2017), and Liselotte Neumann (2018).