Jennifer Chang is not an imposing figure – until you put a golf club in her hand.
That is when the freshman at Athens Drive High School, who just turned 15, wears braces and stands only 5-foot-4, can be intimidating.
Chang shot 74-70 to win the girls’ state 4A state golf championship at Pinehurst No. 1.
“It means a lot, honestly,” she said. “A girl from our school won last year and she was a freshman, too. I wanted to win to keep it going.”
Chang was referring to Emilia Migliaccio, who won the 4-A title last year but opted to play the American Junior Golf Association circuit this fall instead of high school golf. Migliaccio has already verbally committed to Wake Forest.
Chang does not plan to exit the fall school competition.
“Playing high school golf was one of most fun things I’ve done,” she said. “I plan to play the next three years.”
Chang also is the third straight player from Athens Drive to win the title. Sarah Bae, now a sophomore collegiate player at High Point, won in 2012.
Chang started the final round tied for second with Catherine Ashworth of Fuquay-Varina, trailing Ellis Hunter of Greensboro Page by only one shot. Ashworth shot 72 in the final round and finished second. Hunter fell back with a final-round 81.
Chang seized control the second day on the par-70 course by shooting 2-under on the front nine. She stumbled with back-to-back bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes but bounced back with a birdie on the 16th.
“It’s awesome,” Athens Drive coach Dave Snyder said. “Her being a freshman makes it exciting.”
Snyder said Chang did not succumb to the pressure.
“It shows that she’s got some guts,” he said. “She plays a lot but this is a little bit different for her and she did well. I’m looking forward to three more years.”
Perhaps Chang was not fazed because she has known success despite having played golf for only five years. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Public Links when she was just 13 and she regularly plays in AJGA, CGA and Peggy Kirk Bell Tour events.
She attributes her calm demeanor on the course to “just being confident, not putting too much pressure on myself.”
“I try not to get angry,” she said. “The more angry you get, the more it is going to affect your next shot. I’ve always been told by my dad to stay calm. Then I got some encouragement from another player I played with today, from Rhea (Bahtia). She helped me to calm down and said, ‘It’s OK, you’ve got this.’ She was very encouraging.”
Snyder is a pro at Lochmere Golf Club where Chang and the Athens Drive team play. He remembers the first time he saw her swing a club.
“I told her, ‘I think I can get you more distance,'” he said.
That is not a problem now. Despite her small stature, Chang can move the ball 250 yards off the tee.
Snyder hopes to find more players to go with Chang so Athens Drive can field a team next year in the state tournament. Senior Lexi Johnston was the only other Athens Drive player to make it this year. She shot 87-82 and is headed to Barton College next year on a golf scholarship.
“I’m hoping to find more players,” Snyder said. “I know I have one coming in and hope I can work with a couple more to get them in. I had five players that could shoot 51, 52 for nine holes. You have to shoot 50 or lower to make it to regionals. I’ve got to push them just a little bit more.”
One bad tee shot cost Ashworth a chance at the title. She hit her drive out of bounds on the 14th hole and made a double bogey. But she had four birdies in her final round and was the leader in the clubhouse until Chang finished.
“I could definitely have used a few more birdies,” said Ashworth, a senior. “I left some out there but I’m not too disappointed. I had high expectations, I usually do, I guess. But I did the best I could and whatever happens, happens.”
Fuquay-Varina coach Chris Jones said about Ashworth: “She makes my job real easy. Her sophomore year she was 11th and her freshman year she was top five. It’s nice to be familiar with being in that position. I think she handled the pressure very well.”
Ashworth made it through the final round despite some painful blisters on her heels.
“I knew I was going to have problems,” she said. “Luckily, I made it through the whole round without taking my shoes off. But it was a battle. Lesson learned. Don’t play 36 holes in new golf shoes.”
Ashworth has committed to play golf at East Carolina next year.
“I could not be any more excited,” she said. “I can’t wait to get there. This is just a step along the road and I’m ready to be there.”
Kayla Ward of Garner Magnet High School shot 77-72 for third place in the individual standings and Meghan Symonds of Green Hope was fourth with 75-76.