REUNION, Fla. – Compared to the biting cold temperatures that plagued the 2010 AJGA Annika Invitational, the 2011 version so far has been a walk in the park. Reunion Resort’s Independence Course was all but defenseless on a warm, sunny day as 72 of the top junior girls from around the world battled for the first “major” of the season under the nose of LPGA great Annika Sorenstam. Here are five things to take away from the opening round:
1.) In the presence of greatness
Three-time AJGA winner Marijosse Navarro took a one-shot lead after the first-round, squeaking ahead of the five players tied for second by one shot. Navarro got on a tear at No. 13, birdieing four of her final six holes to get to 3-under 69. Navarro’s saving grace came on the green, which she calls the strongest area of her game right now.
Navarro made a return trip to the Annika this year in part because of the chance to play in an event sponsored by the LPGA great. She also fell in love with the course at last year’s event.
Samantha Marks, who also put together a strong close with birdies at Nos. 17 and 18, feels the same way.
Marks is tied for second at 2-under 70 with Casey Danielson, Kendall Prince, Gyeol Park and Rachel Dai. As a local girl, Marks has the luxury of sleeping in her own bed this week at home in Maitland, which could explain her extreme comfort level at Reunion.
“I was just hitting it really good, it was just really pure,” she said. “Everything was going exactly where I wanted it to.”
2.) Older, wiser and stronger
Since getting stuck with the “unknown” tag at the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior when she came out of nowhere to finish runner-up to Doris Chen, Katelyn Dambaugh has progressed considerably as a player. The 16-year-old is making her AJGA debut at the Annika, and has a slightly different look to her. Mostly, it’s all in the logos.
Dambaugh was decked out in Duke blue at the Girls’ Junior, but now she’s added a Florida putter cover and South Carolina towel to her Blue Devil headcover and visor (which she wore last summer with the hopes of playing for Duke). She has visited all three schools, and also has talked with Purdue head coach Devon Brouse. Dambaugh, however, maintains that she is too young to make any college decisions just yet.
For now, Dambaugh, who opened with 3-over 75, is concentrating on basketball, her other love. She missed the first round of state playoffs to be at the Annika, but didn’t arrive in Orlando until 3 a.m. Friday because of basketball practice. She teed off for her practice round four hours later. As for Dambaugh’s golf game, she’s noticeably longer off the tee after adding a TaylorMade Burner SuperFast driver to her bag.
“I think I’m only going to be playing basketball one more year and then stick to golf,” Dambaugh said.
After her first season playing for the newly-established girls’ golf program at Pinewood Prep in Summerville, S.C., Dambaugh is about to switch gears and play for the boys’ team. Pinewood won the high school state championship this fall.
3.) A look at the youngsters
There are two 12-year-olds in the field at the Annika, which is significant because juniors do not even become eligible for AJGA events until they reach that age.
Allisen Corpuz, of Honolulu, already has won an AJGA event. Two years ago, she also became the youngest player ever to enter a USGA event when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links as a 10-year-old.
Does being a young gun in an older field add pressure? For Corpuz, who shot 2-over 74 Saturday, it’s just the opposite.
“It’s kind of a lot less pressure because they’re a lot older than me so … I just feel like I have to try my best, not necessarily be as good as them,” she said.
Hannah O’Sullivan, of Cupertino, Calif., also is playing this week. O’Sullivan qualified for match play at the history-laden San Francisco City Championship last year as an 11-year-old, only to find out she wasn’t eligible to play until she was 12 (she’ll attempt to qualify again March 5). She also won her first AJGA start last year. After struggling with her swing Saturday, O’Sullivan posted an 11-over 83.
4.) Feng spends second-straight Annika Invite on the sidelines
Four-time AJGA Invitational winner Yueer Cindy Feng withdrew from the Annika for the second straight year, this time with a wrist injury. The 15-year-old tore cartilage in her right wrist hitting out of wet rough a week ago. She expects to return to the course in another week.
Unlike last year, which kept Feng out with the flu, she didn’t feel like staying in bed Saturday just to nurse a wrist. Instead, she hopped on a bicycle and spent the day cruising the grounds to watch some golf. Midway through the round, Feng already had decided she could never be a golf spectator. Together with trying to stay out of everyone’s way on her fat tire, Feng felt a little out of place
“I got a bike on a golf course,” she said. “And I don’t know how to be a spectator.”
5.) Scouting report
Seen in the gallery during the opening round of the Annika: Meg Mallon, 2011 Junior Solheim Cup Captain, and Beth Daniel, 2009 Solheim Cup captain. The two were whizzing around the Independence Course in a golf cart checking out the action. It’s never to early to start scouting for picks, right? Especially since the U.S. leads Europe in the series by the slim margin of 3-2-0.