Golfweek Jr. turns into family affair

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WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – The Liu siblings are polite, well-mannered and soft-spoken.

That is, however, until their scorecards got turned in Saturday after the first round of the first event of the Golfweek Junior Series at Saddlebrook Resort outside Tampa, Fla.

“I’m the best of us all,” little sister, Stephanie Liu, 11, said with an ear-to-ear grin.

Middle brother Kevin, 14, wasn’t having it.

“You shot what, again?” he chimed back without missing a beat.

The oldest, 16-year-old Brandon, just smiled and shook his head.

“We’re with each other a lot,” he said.

The Liu threesome comes as a package deal. They practice together, play most of their tournaments together and complete their homeschooled online education together. And now, all three are in the hunt in the Golfweek Junior Series.

Brandon shot 4-over 74 and is tied for third in the boys’ division, four shots off the lead. Kevin shot 78 and is eight back. In the girls’ division, Stephanie is tied for sixth, five shots out of the lead, after posting 80.

The Liu crew lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends nearby Missing Links Golf Academy at Legacy Golf Club. Five days a week, the siblings practice from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., then hit the course until dark. The increased practice schedule was new to the family last summer, and Brandon says it has helped improve his course management after a “rough season” last year on the junior circuit.

“I know now when to take my medicine,” he said.

Brandon posted nine scores above 80 last season on the FCWT, but has only gone over that number once this year. Kevin posted two second-place finishes last season on the FCWT, while Stephanie won twice in the 11-13 division.

All three say they are eager to get the summer season started this year, especially after working hard this winter.

“We help each other all the time,” Kevin said. “We’re pretty close.”

BOYS LEADER: Jason Chen, 14, leads the boys’ division after an even-par 70. Three times Saturday, Chen recovered from errant shots to avoid a big number. On No. 18, his ninth hole, Chen chunked his second shot, then responded with an approach that stopped 5 feet from the hole. He saved par. On the par-3 third, he saved bogey from a dicey lie in a greenside bunker.

“Those shots made my round,” he said.

Chen, an eighth-grader from Brea, Calif., is coming off a victory on the JAGS Tour in February.

Thomas Wicker, who played in the same group as Chen, is second after a 72. He birdied Nos. 1 and 4.

“It felt a little like match play,” he said.

GIRLS LEADER: Linda Luo birdied two of her last three holes to shoot 75 and leads the girls’ division. She is one shot ahead of Mariel Curran, who is in second place despite two double bogeys.

Luo, who started on the 10th hole, made a 30-footer on the par-4 seventh, then followed with a 25-footer on the par-3 eighth.

“They were uphill, then downhill, and I don’t know how they went in,” Luo said.

Luo, 16, moved to Florida last December from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend the IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: The top 5 boys and girls, including ties, will get an exemption into the Golfweek Junior Invitational Nov. 7-8 at Reunion Resort in Orlando, Fla.

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