Young plays 'smart' and lands Junior Invitational title

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GRANITEVILLE, S.C. –- Carson Young’s smile came gradually. The 18-year-old was the last man standing at the end of a soggy Sunday at Sage Valley, during which half a dozen other players made a serious run at the Junior Invitational title. That Young had such a prestigious new line to add to his resume hadn’t quite sunk in as the final group walked to the scoring tent late in the afternoon.

Young, from nearby Pendleton, S.C., entered the final round as one of eight players within 2 shots of leader Sam Horsfield, and drew a spot in the next-to-last group. Sunday morning began with heavy downpours, and players were sent off the first and 10th tees. Play was stopped a half hour into the round as greens pooled with water. Play resumed after another half hour.

Young teed off in drizzly conditions and bogeyed his first two holes. He birdied the third hole and made his last bogey of the day at No. 5. He spent the early part of the day trailing Horsfield, and much of the rest of the afternoon trailing Robby Shelton, the top-ranked junior in the nation. Young didn’t slip into the lead into he was on No. 18, and he didn’t know how the leaderboard stood until No. 14, when an official approached him and asked if he’d like to talk scoring.

Though Young’s victory might have seemed last-minute, it’s a trick the South Carolinan is known for. Young says all of his major victories have been a result of a final-round rally. On Sunday, Young dropped long birdie putts at Nos. 16 and 18 for a final-round 70 and a 4-under 212 total.

“I was just playing smart,” Young said of the final round. “Today’s mindset was just to birdie the par 5s.”

He was 1 under on the par 5s for the final round, and 3 under on them for the week. Young eagled the par-5 15th in the first round.

As for Shelton, a Sage Valley title would have been the third major junior title in the past nine months. Shelton won the PGA Junior Championship in July and the Junior Players Championship in September. He took the lead into the final round at both events.

Shelton made up the most ground with a second-round 68 at Sage Valley, and was among the seven players tied for third at 2 under on Sunday morning. The Alabama signee displayed noticeable poise in the final round, and turned in 33 to take a two-shot lead. Horsfield, meanwhile, was leaking oil. He effectively took himself out of the game with double bogeys at the fourth and eighth holes.

With a single-shot lead heading to the par-3 16th, Shelton hung his tee shot to the right and faced an uphill chip. Shelton knocked it to 10 feet and made the putt.

Shelton’s downfall came at the final two holes. He tried to play his approach at No. 17 out of casual water, landed in a greenside bunker and couldn’t get up-and-down. After that bogey, Shelton hit his 7-iron into 18 green long, and couldn’t get up and down from there, either. Those two bogeys left Shelton with a final-round 72, and at 2-under 214 total, two shots behind Young.

“I learned a lot, that I could handle the pressure,” Shelton said.

Before earning the traditional gold jacket that goes along with a Junior Invitational victory, Young had been the king of the junior circuit in South Carolina. Young is Golfweek’s top-ranked player in the state, and in the past year has won the Carolinas Amateur, the Bobby Champion Junior, Carolinas Junior Match Play and The Blade Junior Classic. The Junior Invitational, however, is his defining victory.

“Junior-wise, it’s definitely No. 1,” Young said. “These juniors are so good.”

Young is now one-for-one in this event. He spent the weeks leading up to it working with swing coach Jackie Seawell and trying to correct an outside-in swing plane. That allowed Young to work the ball to the left and to the right. Still, there is no specific shot that promises success at Sage Valley.

“You need it all, really,” Young said.

Young also won last year’s 2A high school state championship, and helped lead Pendleton High School to the first team title since 1978. Young is the No. 1 player for the Bulldogs right now, but he’s followed closely by Austin Langdale, No. 2 in the state of South Carolina. Langdale and Young have known each other since they were 5 years old, and both have signed to play for Clemson beginning in the fall. Add Sunday’s final 18 to the countless rounds the two have played together over the the years. Langdale posted a final-round 72 to climb into a tie for second with Shelton, Horsfield and Greyson Sigg.

Late in the afternoon, however, Langdale was a good bet for the victory. He began the day with three birdies in his first five holes. In the end, however, Young was the player to produce the most magic when the time was right.

“If I couldn’t have won, I’m glad to see (Young) win,” Langdale said. “That finish he had was absolutely unbelievable. I’m still kind of scratching my head over that one.”

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