After an amazing start to the 2018 season, it only seemed right to feature our 2018 ANNIKA Invitational USA presented by Rolex champion, Angelina (Lei) Ye. It was her second AJGA win overall, but her first Invitational win. It moved her up to 10th in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior girls’ rankings. With her two-shot victory in St. Augustine, she earned an exemption into the Symetra Tour’s Florida's Natural Charity Classic taking place in March. We spoke with Angelina shortly after ANNIKA Invitational USA win and here’s what she had to say.
What is your favorite food?
All things chocolate. And I probably eat way too much of it.
If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Time manipulation. But not to change the past or for immortality, because I believe being mortal is what lets us appreciate life and everything in it. But it would be awesome if I could make time speed up or slow down, then I can make the good moments last longer, and literally make more time when I needed it. Although it would be pretty cool to be able to dial back time and make that two-footer that I missed... but then again that kind of defeats the point of golf!
What is your biggest fear?
Not being good enough.
Who is your favorite golfer?
Wow, I've had so many over the years. The first names in golf that I knew were Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie. Five-year-old me didn't really understand just how good they were but rather it was the influence they had. They were the first players to inspire me. Then my favorite female golfer was Paula Creamer; I would start wearing pink like she does. And Phil Mickleson was another favorite of mine, he was great like Tiger and super nice to us kids. I remember at one of the WGC events they host every year at my home club when Phil recognized me as the kid who had told him to win at the pro-am dinner. My current favorite, though, would probably have to be Lydia Ko.
What is your favorite movie?
I can't really decide between “Pride and Prejudice” and “Inception.”
What is your favorite holiday and why?
Does summer vacation count? I love it. I get to travel all over America playing tournaments, visiting places, even internationally sometimes. And I don't have to worry about missing out or making up school work. I also get a chance to visit or spend time with friends from back home or places other than Florida.
How do you spend your free time outside of golf?
I love reading. I think being curled up with a good book and some hot chocolate (or any other drink that I felt like) is a pretty cozy way to spend an afternoon when I'm taking a rest day from golf. I'm also pretty adventurous, I really enjoy activities like zip lining, bungee jumping, paragliding. Although my brother is the only one in my family that shares the spirit. I've always wanted to try sky diving and jet skiing but haven’t gotten the chance.
Who is your biggest role model and why?
My biggest role model is probably Lydia Ko. When she started winning, I was finally old enough to really understand and appreciate her greatness and achievements. When Lydia became the youngest player to win on the LPGA tour, I was competing more seriously and she became my role model. And then she exceeded all expectations and became the youngest major winner and youngest World No. 1 golfer. She really inspired me, and I wanted to be like her.
Do you have any hidden talents? If so, what are they?
I called my best friend up for this, and according to her I'm apparently great at breaking scissors... But seriously, she said I'm pretty good at making smoothies.
What is your greatest memory of playing golf so far?
I don't really have a specific greatest memory of golf. I remember vividly the time I played in a seven-hole playoff for a nine-hole junior event; the time I cried when I lost to a girl at the National Finals after shooting 67, my lowest score yet—she shot 65 and beat me by one; my first hole-in-one; my first international win in the Veritas World Junior; when I almost chipped in from the hazard and went on to win my first AJGA. But there is this one photo of my dad and me that really captures the moment. It was my first tournament in the United States, the US Kids Series, at Longleaf Golf Club in North Carolina. And there he was, coaching me super intently and patiently. Every time I look at this photo, I am reminded of how fortunate I am, how my parents have helped and supported me unconditionally over the years. For that, I am eternally grateful.
How/Why did you start playing golf?
The first time I hit a golf ball was probably when I was around 4 when my parents brought me to the driving range with them. But I didn't get into golf until I was six. At first, practice seemed very tedious and mundane, but I began to appreciate it after I won a mini-competition and thought: hey, I really like golf and I really like winning!
What was your favorite golf tournament you have played in so far?
Wyndham Cup. Golf is always an individual sport, so it's great when I can play for a team and bond with my teammates in a way that is just different from hanging out with friends at a normal tournament. It's a lot of fun. I also really enjoy the match formats, and our captains were great, the tournament was really well run, and everything was awesome. Of course, it's even better when my team wins, like last summer (2017).
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring female golfers who are just starting to play the game?
I think the most important thing is to have perseverance and not feel discouraged if you don't see immediate improvement. No one is going to get it right away, especially in golf. Progress is slow, sometimes it takes up to half a year for the work you put in to really show in results. Before Christmas break, one of my girlfriends told me that she was embarrassed to practice hit balls on the driving range because her peers were so much better than she was. She also felt discouraged that in tournaments she will inevitably have a "screw up" round and shoot in the 90's. But she has only played golf for a year. However, just last week, she played in her first tournament this year and shot in the low 80's every round. Don't be discouraged, play golf to enjoy it and don’t beat yourself up over it.
What is your favorite emoji?
Definitely the laughing with tears one.
What do you think can be done to continue growing the game of golf outside the United States?
I think the most important thing is really to get more people to play the game, especially aspiring junior golfers. I know that more junior golfers are getting into golf in China, but the field is nowhere close to that of the US. I think establishing role models for aspiring junior golfers is super important. I remember the frenzy that Tiger had brought in his prime, when so many more people got into golf because of him, and people who didn't even know golf knew his name. I think what the ANNIKA Foundation does to feature players and what other platforms do to provide role models for aspiring junior golfers is super important. I think showing them that achieving their dreams is possible and sharing with them the journey is invaluable. Hopefully, someday aspiring juniors can look up to me like I did to my role models.
Congratulations on winning the ANNIKA Invitational USA presented by Rolex. Tell me about how you felt leading up to the final holes in the last round. How did you stay calm and focused?
There was definitely a lot of pressure, although the fact that I wasn't certain that I was leading might have helped alleviate that pressure a little. I think the turning point for me was when I chipped in for birdie on number 12, that helped me get back into the game after a not so great start of the round. And then I birdied numbers 15 and 16 and was suddenly aware of the fact that I might be leading. Standing behind the ball on 17, I forced myself to think of the drive I was about to hit, and that drive only. Aim and focus on that tree, and only on that tree. Walking down the fairway, I repeated to myself, almost like a mantra: breathe, tempo, and smile.
18 is a long and difficult hole with water down the left side. I thought it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, just hit it on the fairway and try to make par; keep it safe. I took a couple deep breaths hoping to slow down my heartrate and tried to stick to my routine, especially not taking extra long over the ball. The ball ended up almost in the exact same position as the second round, so I felt a little more confident because I had already hit a similar shot and made birdie the previous day. I hit a good shot to about 15ft and made par.
I know you mentioned that your goal for 2018 was to win an AJGA Invitational and now you have accomplished that. Do you have any other goals or new goals for the year?
I want to qualify for the US Women's Open and make the cut
Beat my scoring record
Get my scrambling rate up to 65%
Finish inside the top 10 for my events
Win at least one more time
What was your best round of golf so far and where did it take place?
My best round of golf was probably the first round of the Blue Bay LPGA last October. I shot two-under and placed myself at T18. It was my second time playing in the tournament. Prior to the round, I was pretty nervous. The golf course was long, around 6700 yards, it was windy, and the greens were very firm and unpredictable. I made five birdies and generally hit more greens than I expected given how difficult the greens were playing. Also, I played with Swedish golfer Pernilla Lindberg that day and she was so unbelievably nice, so that was definitely a great experience for me. Also, I finished the tournament with Low-Amateur honors, so I got to stand next to ShanShan Feng at the awards ceremony. That was the win that boosted her to World No. 1 status, the first Chinese player to do so, and it was really special to share the moment with her.
If you could change one thing about women’s golf, what would it be?
I think women's golf deserves more recognition and more equality in terms of prize money compared to the PGA Tour. While it is true that men's golf generally has more sponsors, broader exposure, and is often regarded as more "interesting," in terms of skill, scores, and hard work, there really isn't much difference between the best PGA and LPGA players. As of 2017, most LPGA tournaments have a purse of $1.3 million to $2 million, and the U.S. Women's Open has a purse of $5 million. But PGA TOUR events average $7 million purses, and the U.S. Open has a purse of $12 million —more than double that of the U.S. Women's Open. Brooks Koepka walked away with $2,160,000 after winning the 2017 U.S. Open, more than the entire purse of a typical LPGA tournament. But in terms of the leading scoring average, Jordan Spieth beat Lexi Thompson by less than half a stroke, 68.85 to 69.114. Not only do the LGPA players deserve more equality and recognition, but raising the purses will also encourage more girls to pick up golf or aspire to play professionally, and eventually grow the game.
Originally from Shanghai, China, Angelina is enrolled at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The 16-year-old spent most of her childhood in China, but when her parents realized that there wasn’t much opportunity for her to pursue golf along with school, they decided to make a change. She will graduate in 2019 and has verbally committed to Stanford University. With her number one goal crossed off for 2018, Angelina has others that don’t seem too far out of reach, like qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open. We look forward to watching her the rest of the season and thank Angelina for being February’s Featured Player!