Junior Yana Wilson’s caddie dies on eve of Epson Tour opener

Yana Wilson will never forget the 2024 Epson Tour season opener. It started out as a reunion of sorts as Wilson met up again with Rick Evans, the longtime Liberty National caddie who was on her bag for the win at the AJGA Mizuho Americas Open last summer. Wilson, 17, won the junior event right alongside Rose Zhang.

Evans collapsed on Tuesday during a practice round at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in Winter Haven, Florida. On Thursday evening, the night before the start of the 54-hole event, Wilson’s family learned that the caddie known as “Goose” had died.

Wilson, who was playing in the event as an amateur, wrote in a touching Instagram post that she would do her best to make him proud. She stayed in the tournament, recording three eagles in Saturday’s round to sit only two stroke back of the leaders.

But she fell ill on Sunday, and as she tried to warm up for the final round, she was too dizzy to compete and withdrew from the tournament.

“I have never met a caddie better than you,” Wilson wrote. “Your ability to guide and encourage was unmatched.”

Last year’s AJGA Player of the Year, Wilson won her first professional title last month on the Cactus Tour, playing alongside 2020 AIG Women’s British Open champion Sophia Popov, who is coming back from maternity leave.

Wilson had set a goal of winning a professional title before she graduated from high school. Such lofty goals are often placed on her annual vision boards. The first year she won the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National, for example, Wilson had the Masters leaderboard on her board.

Two years ago when she won the U.S. Girls’ Junior, she’d posted a picture of Minjee Lee hoisting the Girls’ Junior trophy.

Like many junior players, Wilson tries to emulate 2023 Augusta National Womens Amateur champ Zhang as much as she can. For example, her mindset coming into this week’s Epson Tour event was quite different compared to her first sponsor exemption on the developmental tour.

“I thought I’d kind of have it in the bag back then,” said Wilson, “which obviously isn’t the best mindset to walk into a tournament with.

“This time I have no expectation. … That’s also kind of what Rose talks about all the time – having no expectations.”

Yana Wilson and Rose Zhang imitate a “selfie” with their trophies after the final round of the 2023 Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

Last summer, Wilson played in her first LPGA major at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. She recently received an invitation to compete in the Amundi Evian Championship this July.

Her favorite pro, Minjee Lee, won that one as well.

Wilson, who was born and raised in Henderson, Nevada, went out to watch her favorite LPGA players as a youngster at the Kia Classic near San Diego. She was 8 years old the first time Lee caught her eye and gave her a golf ball.

While winning the Girls’ Junior is the most obvious comparison between the two, there’s one more similarity that’s nothing short of shocking.

Wilson was out watching the LPGA at Aviara in 2016. She’d stepped back from Lee to watch Lydia Ko when she heard a tremendous roar coming from the 16th. Lee had holed out for an ace on the drivable par 4.

Two years later, Wilson did the same from 290 yards on the downhill dogleg as they chased a setting sun.

“It was such a crazy coincidence,” she said of her first ace.

Wilson, who was taught by her father, Jim, would like nothing more than to add something to her resume this spring that Lee doesn’t boast: a stroke-play victory at Augusta National.

One special caddie will be with her all the way.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek