Chun wins Golfweek Junior, sets sights higher

Sam Chun during the first round of the Golfweek Junior Invitational.

Sam Chun during the first round of the Golfweek Junior Invitational.

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REUNION, Fla. – When Sam Chun first moved to the United States last winter, he struggled to find a place to play and rarely broke 75. What a difference a year makes: in 2011, he’ll pick and choose his schedule, with an eye on capturing a USGA championship.

Chun made a short birdie putt on the 12th hole to pull ahead, then held on down the stretch for a three-shot victory Sunday in the Golfweek Junior Invitational. Chun shot a final-round 71 and finished the two-round tournament at 2-under 142, three shots clear of Dylan Healey on the Independence Course at Reunion Resort.

“I’m very proud and excited,” Chun said through an interpreter. “I feel really good about my swing right now.”

Chun, 17, moved from Seoul, South Korea, last November and transferred to the Brian Mogg Elite Golf Academy, located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. At the time, Chun could play only in small-field junior events, and he struggled to find a repeatable swing.

“He used to stay back on his right side and got stuck a lot,” said Bill Nelson, a coach at the Academy. “Now he’s stacked on top of it more and is way more consistent. He hits the ball pure almost every time.”

That came in handy during a blustery final round at Reunion, with wind gusts near 30 mph. Even though he didn’t convert several short birdie opportunities – Chun hit the ball inside 10 feet four times on the back nine, making only one birdie – he was left with little work for par. He rolled in a 6-foot par putt on the 18th to secure his fourth victory in 12 events since coming to the U.S. He said he wants to win either the U.S. Junior or U.S. Amateur in 2011.

“I was really nervous (down the stretch) but it made me focus more,” said Chun, who won a Golfweek Junior qualifier near Myrtle Beach, S.C., in August to enter the field. He is No. 143 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings. “Now I’m really excited about my game.”

So was Healey, 16, who played the Golfweek Junior Invitational just days after making a verbal commitment to New Mexico. The long-hitting left-hander turned in 33 to give himself a chance on the back nine, but struggled to gauge the distance on some shots and shot 71 to finish solo second. Jeffrey Meltzer (71) and Motin Yeung (75) tied for third.

“It just shows that I can play with a lot of good players,” said Healey, No. 175 in Golfweek’s rankings. “It really helps my confidence.”

Sepp Straka, a Georgia commit, shared the overnight lead with Sean Kelly (78) but bogeyed two of the first three holes and shot 79. Sepp Straka’s twin brother, Sam, who trailed by four shots entering the final round, made two early birdies but hit a rough patch in the middle of the round and shot 75.

On this day, no one could catch Chun.

“He’s in contention every week, and he’s so consistent,” Nelson said. “Now he realizes he’s capable of winning – and he believes he can win. That’s a huge thing.”

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