Jim Liu and Emiliano Grillo went low Saturday in the first round of the AJGA Ping Invitational and were tied for the lead at 3-under 69. Jordan Spieth, the top-ranked junior in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings who won the U.S. Junior Amateur in July, was seven shots back after opening with a 4-over 76. Spieth won the Ping Invitational last year, and has two other AJGA titles.
Liu, of Smithtown, N.Y., had four birdies and a bogey at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. The 14-year-old is still searching for his first AJGA victory. Liu and Gavin Hall (who is tied for fourth) are the only two competitors from the Class of 2013.
“I kept it consistent and stayed out of trouble,” Liu said. “The course is really tough and the greens are fast, but I was able to read the green speed pretty consistently and that helped me out a lot.”
Liu is No. 22 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, and is No. 2 in his class behind Hall.
Grillo, of Bradenton, Fla., had four birdies on the front nine, but had an up-and-down conclusion to the round. Grillo carded four bogeys and two birdies, and made an eagle on the par-5 14th to finish his round.
“I played really well on the front nine and hit almost every green,” Grillo said. “My final holes weren’t that good, but if I can keep the ball in the fairway and on the green tomorrow, I’m going to fight through and make good putts.”
Grillo, 17, has yet to win an AJGA event, but won the Callaway Junior World Championships in July. He is No. 6 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings.
Patrick Rodgers was two shots back at 1-under 71, and Matthew Ceravolo and Hall were tied for fourth at 2-over 74.
Bobby Wyatt, who last month won the AJGA Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., opened with a 79 that left him in a tie for 22nd. Wyatt will be a freshman next fall at Alabama. U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-hun An, who will attend California next year, also struggled in the first round, shot 80 and was tied for 27th. An finished third at last year’s Ping.
Yaroslav Merkulov, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Titleist College Rankings, shot 83 and was tied for 35th. Merkulov won the New York State Junior and Amateur championships this summer, and finished second at the Junior Players last month. Merkulov has verbally committed to Duke.
The Ping Invitational is the final event in which players can earn points for the Rolex Junior All-America Teams.
– AJGA contributed to this story.