WEST DES MOINES, Iowa - U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster loved the playful bravado.
Long before Angel Yin played her way onto the media’s radar as a Solheim Cup hopeful this summer, she was on Inkster’s radar.
The LPGA rookie wouldn’t let Inkster walk past her at a tour event without letting her know she was ready to play for her.
Every time she passed me, she would say, `I’m going to make your team.’ I loved that about her,” said Inkster, who made Yin one of her two captain’s picks. “She’s confident, but not cocky.”
Tour insiders have been waiting for this giant talent to make a mark as a pro on a big stage, and Des Moines Golf and Country Club looks like that stage.
Yin is a long-hitting Californian, the first-generation American daughter of Chinese immigrants, a raw but determined talent with fun-loving charm that is as big as her swing.
Yin is the only true LPGA rookie on the American team preparing to meet Europe in Iowa this week, the second-youngest American to play in the biennial international team event. She will be 18 years, 10 months and 15 days old when the competition begins on Friday. That’s four months older than Lexi Thompson was when she made her Solheim Cup debut four years ago.
“My team just loves her, loves her,” Inkster said.
They love the bold way Yin plays the game.
“She’s fearless,” American veteran Stacy Lewis said. “She has the length of Ariya Jutanugarn but hits it higher and straighter.”
There is something else they love, too. They love the quirky, carefree spirit Yin brings to the team room. She’s quickly fitting in as America’s version of Charley Hull, the teen who charmed and entertained the Euros with her artless ways as a rookie in Colorado four years ago.
Beth Allen isn’t on the American team, but she saw Yin’s charms before Yin joined the LPGA this year. They played the Ladies European Tour last year.
“I’m from California, and I could tell right away Angel was a California girl,” said Allen, the first American to win the LET’s Order of Merit. “It’s the way she talks, and that Californian free spirit. She marches to the beat of her own drum. She’s just a lot of fun.”
You can see it Yin’s social media posts, even in her Twitter handle. She’s @angelyinlol.
“The name Angel Yin was taken, and some friends who said I really needed to be on social media liked the idea of adding LOL on the end of my name,” Yin told GolfChannel.com “It grew on me.”
For those oblivious to all things social media, LOL is short for “laugh out loud.”
From Yin’s mischievous grin on her profile picture, to her pink-eared ski cap, you quickly see the LOL in Yin’s social media persona.
She posted a GIF of the Riverdale TV show character Jughead, ranting on how he’s different.
“I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in. I don’t want to fit in,” Jughead rants.
“Exactly!” Yin commented in her retweet.
Yin once regaled her followers with how she suffered a bout of dehydration because she slept for 17 straight hours. And how she once got her hair caught in an elevator door.
On her 18th birthday last fall, Yin posted comically that it was something to mourn, because she was officially designated an adult, with the wonder of childhood behind her.
“Probably one of the saddest days of my life,” she wrote on Instagram. “No longer a kid anymore. From here on out, it’s just responsibility to discipline to being mature. Can’t believe this day came so fast, but on the bright side, I’m legal now and I can party almost everywhere in Europe.”
Germany’s Olivia Cowan and Iceland’s Olafia Kristinsdottir met Yin as fellow LET rookies last year.
“We call ourselves The Three Musketeers,” Cowan said. “We are besties, always together.”
With Yin entertaining the trio with her unique take on things.
“When Angel gets going, she doesn’t stop talking,” Cowan said. “She is very lively, the most fun person I know. We can talk about the stupidest things, and we can talk about it for hours.”
The funny thing about Yin is that she considers herself shy. At least, she can be in new environments. Making her start on the LPGA this year, she was cautious, socially.
“I’m just a rookie, and there are a lot of big shots on tour I’m afraid to talk to,” Yin said. “People might see me with friends and think, `She’s not shy at all,’ but in reality I’m a really shy person. It’s hard for me to come out of my shell sometimes, but once the wall’s knocked down . . .”
“I really don’t think she’s afraid of anything,” Kristinsdottir said.
Yin nearly made the American team via the U.S. Solheim Cup world rankings list. She tied for eighth at the Marathon Classic and tied for 11th at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in her last two starts. With two more birdies coming home at Kingsbarns, Yin wouldn’t have required a captain’s pick. She would have qualified with the effort.
It didn’t take LET pros long last year to see what LPGA pros are seeing this year.
Yin was second on the LET in driving distance last year, trailing only Joanna Klatten, who also led the LPGA in driving. She finished 11th on the LET Order of Merit.
Yin is seventh in the LPGA ranks in driving this season, averaging 272 yards per drive.
“The way she compresses the ball, it’s not like anyone else,” Allen said.
Yin joined the LET as a 17-year-old. She didn’t think it was right to petition the LPGA for a waiver of its rule requiring members be 18 years old, and while USC was offering her a scholarship, she believed she was ready to turn pro.
Yin’s swing coach, Bob Lasken, knew the LET and what it offered. His sister, now Kim McNary, played the LET before joining the LPGA. He offered it up as an option, and Angel’s mother was intrigued.
Michelle Yin has never played a hole of golf in her life, but she learned the game watching her daughter, listening to her coaches, watching every LPGA and PGA Tour event she could find on TV. She also read through Tiger Woods’ instructional book, “How I Play Golf.
When Angel joined the LET, Michelle picked up her bag as caddie.
“We couldn’t afford to pay a caddie,” Michelle said.
Michelle got Angel into the game almost by accident back in Arcadia, Calif.
When Angel was 6, one of Michelle’s friends approached them. The friend had a son who wanted to learn to play golf. The friend asked if Michelle would sign up Angel to join her boy in a month-long junior program at Arcadia Par 3 Golf Course. Angel didn’t have any clubs, but she borrowed a used club from the pro shop.
“My friend’s son didn’t like playing, and he quit,” Michelle said. “Angel didn’t want to quit. She loved it, and she wanted me to buy her some golf clubs.
“She told me, `Mom, don’t worry, you don’t have to come watch over me. You can just drop me off and pick me up. It will be OK.’”
So that’s what Michelle did.
But it wasn’t long until the coaches at Arcadia Par 3 were calling Michelle to tell her Angel was a promising talent, and she needed private lessons. It wasn’t long after that before a coach was calling to say Angel really ought to be competing in tournaments.
“The coach directed me to a web site, and I registered Angel for a tournament,” Michelle said. “Two years after Angel started in the game, she won the Callaway Junior Worlds in San Diego.”
Angel was 8 when she made that breakthrough.
That’s when Michelle said she started getting more involved in her daughter’s game.
“From the beginning, I just followed Angel’s lead, but she picked up everything so fast,” Michelle said. “I decided I needed to get serious and learn everything I could to support her.”
Michelle was a business woman in the import/export business back in China. She moved to the United States from her Beijing home 20 years ago. Angel was born a year later. Michelle became a U.S. citizen about 10 years ago, but Angel’s father remains in China.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without my mother,” Angel said.
Yin has been a big deal in Southern California for a while now. At 13, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run. At 14, she won a junior qualifier to get into the ANA Inspiration and made the cut. At 15, she Monday qualified to get into the LPGA’s Kia Classic, At 16, she won the AJGA’s Annika Invitational, finished runner up in the U.S. Girls’ Junior and played on the U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team.
Lasken first heard about Yin when she was 10.
That’s when Lasken’s sister, Kim, the LPGA pro, teed it up in a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier at Industry Hills. She was paired with Yin.
“Kim called me after saying, `Oh my God, this 10-year-old girl was outdriving me by 30 yards,’” Lasken said. “Angel was a legend at 10.”
Yin’s first private instructor was Greg Castleman, with Lasken taking over about six years ago.
“Angel has that attitude of a champion,” said Lasken, who teaches out of Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo. “You always hear Angel saying `I can do this.’ You never hear her saying, `I can’t.’
“The bigger the stakes, the better she plays. It’s like she has this attitude, `Bring it on.’”
It’s why Inkster believed Yin was ready for this week’s big stage.