It’s been a crazy week already for Yealimi Noh, a 17-year-old from California playing in her first LPGA Tour event as a professional, and it could get even crazier over the next two days at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.
With scores of 63 and 65 in the first two rounds, the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur champion is one stroke off the lead at Thornberry Creek at Oneida outside of Green Bay, Wis., and is set to play in the final pairing in Saturday’s third round with tournament leader and World No. 1, Sung Hyun Park, who shot rounds of 65-62.
In contrast to Park, a two-time major winner who is coming off a victory at last week’s LPGA event in Arkansas, Noh is No. 558 in the World Ranking and only got into this week’s event after sharing medalist honors in a Monday qualifier.
Noh, who turned pro last February, has no status on either the LPGA or Symetra Tour. A successful summer of amateur play in 2018—she also won the Girls’ Junior PGA Championship and the Canadian Women’s Amateur—has not yet translated into the professional ranks. She’s unsuccessfully attempted other Monday qualifiers and twice competed on sponsor’s exemptions on the Symetra Tour. She also recently competed in the Korea Women’s Open, where she finished 31st.
“Beginning of the year, I was really struggling just adjusting to pro life,” Noh said. “Not having anything to play, I was like really struggling … but to come back and work hard and just finally play is really good.”
Twice Noh has competed in LPGA events as an amateur, finishing T-46 at the 2018 CP Women’s Open and T-59 at the 2018 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship.
Only twice in LPGA history has a Monday qualifier gone on to win a tournament: Laurel Kean in 2000 at the State Farm LPGA Classic and Brooke Henderson in 2015 at the Cambia Portland LPGA Classic.
Noh finished her first two rounds at 16-under 128 while playing in the same threesome as amateur Presley Cornelius. The 20-year-old is an intriguing story herself as she is a member of the Oneida Indian nation in Wisconsin, learned golf as a junior at Thornberry Creek and received a sponsor’s exemption to become the first Oneida native to compete in the LPGA event. But playing in the professional event proved to be a challenge, as Cornelius shot 96-103, hitting just eight of 36 fairways.
“No matter who I play with and how they’re playing, anything, I just don’t want to think about anything else,” said Noh after finishing 71 strokes better Cornelius over 36 holes. “Just focus on my score and my game. I don’t want to think too much.”
That will be good advice on Saturday when paired with Park.