In the words of Peter Allen, “Everything old is new again.”
That lyrical observation was certainly appropriate as the 44th edition of what is now called the ANA Inspiration tournament—you may know it as the Dinah Shore—kicked off on Monday, March 30, with the return of the popular Champions Juniors Challenge, organized by the Southern California Golf Association.
The winner of this one-day amateur 18-hole shootout claims the last spot in the field of the 72-hole LPGA major tournament, which begins this Thursday at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.
Thirty-three young women from all over Southern California competed in teams of three, and each team was captained throughout the round by a former LPGA tour pro and champion. This year, two Coachella Valley high school students competed: Malia Ebersberger, of Palm Desert, who attends Xavier College Prep; and Jiyoon Jang, of Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert High School.
For Ebersberger, this was her first appearance in this special event.
“It was a 10 for sure! I’m so glad I was able to play in the tournament,” she said.
Her team captain and mentor for the round was Donna Caponi, winner of four LPGA major titles. “I’m so lucky I got her as my captain. She was truly amazing. She’s awesome,” Ebersberger said.
What tips did Caponi share during their time on the course together? “We were checking the wind and the slopes of the greens,” Ebersbeger said, “and she helped me read, like, every putt, because I needed help.”
Overall, how did Ebersberger feel that she played? “I played pretty well,” Ebersberger said. “I just had one bad hole, but other than that, I’m super excited.”
Her father, J.D. Ebersberger, is the director of golf and COO of the Palms Golf Club in La Quinta; he offered some insight into the play of his daughter.
“She played every other sport except golf, and then finally, almost four years ago, she took the game up, and quit all the other sports. She’s really dedicated herself to golf, and I’m real proud of her,” he said.
While Ebersberger finished at 2 over par for the day, seven shots off the pace of winner Haley Moore, of Escondido, Team Caponi took home the overall team trophy.
This was Jiyoon Jang’s second consecutive appearance at the Junior Challenge, and we asked how she felt about her play on this day.
“Terrible. I don’t know why,” Jang said. “I feel like I prepped well for this tournament, and then when I got out there, I just couldn’t control my shots, and then that lowered my confidence, and it’s hard to play well when you don’t have confidence in your own swing.”
What did she pick up this year from her team captain, six-time LPGA major champion Pat Bradley (with whom she was paired last year as well)?
“She’s like literally the most positive, encouraging, motivating person that I’ve ever met,” Jang said. “It was nice to have her encouraging me even when I made a bogey, and I made a lot of those.”
Jang finished at 5 over par for the round.
Does Jang plan on a return next year? She sighed, then brightened quickly and stated, “Yeah, I think so. Yes. Yes. Yeah, there will be.”
See a gallery of photos from the Champions Junior Challenge below.