A week before her 18th birthday, incoming USC freshman Cindy Kou takes early U.S. Girls’ Junior lead

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CHEVY CHASE, Maryland — Cindy Kou, who also goes by her Chinese given name Xin, mentioned Sung Hyun Park and Lydia Ko as two of her favorite golfers. After a solid opening round at the 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior, the rising freshman at USC is in prime position to put her name alongside her idols in U.S. Golf Association history.

The 17-year-old, who will celebrate her birthday next week, took the early lead in the morning wave at Columbia Country Club with a 4-under 66.

“I think I just stayed really patient,” Kou said of her first round that featured just one bogey after being short-sided on the par-3 13th. “I just stayed patient, left myself uphill putts and some dropped.”

Some as in seven. Kou birdied her first two holes and two of her final three, not bad for the hilly course located north of Washington, D.C. The Valencia, California, native by way of China has 11 AJGA wins under her belt, which has helped her confidence in tournaments like the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

2021 U.S. Girls' Junior
2021 U.S. Girls' Junior

Xin “Cindy” Kou hits a bunker shot on the 14th hole during the first round of stroke play at the 2021 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on Monday, July 12, 2021. (Photo: Kathryn Riley/USGA)

“It just makes me feel really comfortable stepping into this field knowing that I’m one of the better players, I hope,” said Kou. “So I think confidence is like a really big thing and not being nervous when there’s big crowds and people watching, I think that’s important.”

More: Cindy Kou rises junior golf ranks by balancing the grind

Her father, an experienced amateur golfer, is back in China and visits occasionally. Her mother, however, is with her every step of the way.

“She talks to my ball,” said Kou with a laugh. “I don’t want it to listen. Today I crushed a putt way past the hole and she was like, ‘Sit, sit, sit!’ and I was like, ‘Mom, you’re too loud I can hear you all the way over here.’ But she doesn’t talk to me, obviously, that’s changed a lot. I think like a lot of the parents try to talk to the players but I think I’ve had a lot of freedom.”

“I find it almost embarrassing when I make like a short putt and she’ll scream out,” continued Kou with a chuckle. “I’m like, ‘Mom, you don’t have to be that excited,’ but I think it’s definitely really nice to have someone here that’s supportive.”