A League of her own
An Augusta National champion plays a 'mom and pop' junior tournament and blows away the field, of course
Tsubasa Kajitani celebrates with caddie Chad Lamsback on the 18th green after winning during a playoff in the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur.
Kevin C. Cox
As junior tournaments go, this was an early summer “mom and pop” event for the San Diego Junior Golf Association. There were 27 players in the Girls Championship Division, mostly traveling short distances to the 18 Greens Junior Championship at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad.
Then, from out of the ranks of those on the waiting list to get in, a name popped up that got the local kids stirring. Tsubasa Kajitani was in the field. If that name sounds familiar, it should. In April, the Japanese 17-year-old won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, one week before her countryman Hideki Matsuyama captured the Masters.
Now the girl who had beaten many of the top-ranked amateurs in the world was teeing it up against high school girls who were instantly awestruck.
“It was pretty cool,” said Chris Spence, assistant executive director of the SDJGA. “There was a little bit of buzz among the competitors.”
Kajitani didn’t disappoint. On La Costa’s Legends Course—holes from which comprised the composite course that hosted PGA Tour events for decades—Kajitani opened with a three-under-par 70 and followed that on Friday by scoring seven birdies in shooting 67. Her nine-under total took the event by seven shots.
Afterward, Kajitani, the 12th-ranked amateur woman in the world, posed with her trophy as a couple dozen people applauded—quite the contrast to winning at the Augusta National Golf Club in front of a worldwide television audience. On that Saturday, she shot 72 and beat Wake Forest senior Emilia Migliaccio on the first hole of a playoff.
Tsubasa Kajitani holds the trophy she won in the Greens 18 Championship at La Costa.
The big prize for winning the Greens 18 was an invitation to play in the IMG Academy Junior World Championships, which return in July after a one-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Kajitani will have to pass. She has an exemption that week into the Evian Championship in France, an LPGA major. In May, Kajitani played on an exemption in the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club and missed the cut, shooting 77-79.
Why was she playing in a standard junior golf event in Southern California? Spence said Kajitani was using the tournament as practice for the Women’s California State Open, also being played at La Costa, July 6-7.
In addition to the two tournament rounds, Kajitani played a practice round for the Greens 18 at La Costa with Kento Yamawaki, an accomplished San Diego native who is an upcoming sophomore at Cal. Yamawaki told Spence that Kajitani had a very strict practice routine. She doesn’t watch anybody else hit shots, and she types into her phone the result of each of her own shots.
In that, Kajitani probably has a step on the rest of her teen competitors, too.