U.S. Junior Amateur
When: July 16-21
Where: Golf Club of New England, Stratham, N.H.
Who: U.S. Open qualifiers Beau Hossler and Andy Zhang are in the field. So are 2010 champion Jim Liu and 2011 runner-up Chelso Barrett. Three of the top 5 and four of the top 10 golfers in Golfweek’s junior rankings will tee off Monday in Stratham.
The scoop: Jordan Spieth became just the second junior golfer in history to win two U.S. Junior Amateur titles last year.
Spieth, who also won in 2009, has since taken his talents to the University of Texas and perhaps no one is more relieved that Spieth is no longer eligible for the U.S. Junior than one Chelso Barrett.
Barrett lost to Spieth, 6 and 5, in last year’s final – a year after falling to Spieth, 7 and 5, in the Round of 64.
Even more comforting for the rising high school senior and TCU commit might be the fact that this year’s U.S. Junior will be played in his home state of New Hampshire.
Barrett attends Keene High School, which is a little less than 100 miles from the Golf Club of New England.
But just because Spieth is no longer in the fold, doesn’t mean this is Barrett’s tournament to lose. He will almost certainly be challenged by a slew of golfers, including Hossler, the defending medalist, and 14-year-old phenom Zhang. Not to mention Liu.
And it’s not like Barrett is playing poorly. He is fresh off qualifying for match play at the U.S. Amateur Public Links and before that, he claimed his second New Hampshire Junior title in three years.
Add that to hours of dedication perfecting his game back home at Bretwood Golf Club, a course his dad Hugh helped design and at which several of his family members work.
Here’s proof of that dedication: Barrett hits balls on a snow-covered driving range during the winter.
Barrett has the game to finally get over the hump this year.
Plus, after coming so close last year, he’s got extra motivation.
Who’s going to win: When an amateur finishes T-29 at the U.S. Open, he has to be considered a favorite. So that’s why it’s hard to go against Hossler. He handled The Olympic Club like a seasoned professional, so he should have little trouble dealing with the pressure of the U.S. Junior. But that doesn’t mean someone like Barrett or Liu doesn’t have the skill to pull it out either.
Short shots: Hossler advanced to the quarterfinals last year before losing to Adam Ball, 2 and 1. That was after the rising high school senior from Mission Viejo, Calif., took medalist honors by four strokes with a 9-under two-round total. . . . Nicolas Echavarria, ranked No. 5 by Golfweek, also advanced deep into match play last year. The Arkansas signee lost to Barrett in 19 holes during last year’s semifinals at Gold Mountain Golf Club. . . . Zhang, 14, may have missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month, but he made sure he enters the U.S. Junior on a high note. Zhang rattled off three rounds of 70 to win the 13-to-15-year-old division of the Florida State Junior by three strokes over Jack Comstock. . . . It’s hard to overlook a former champion, especially when that former champion is ranked third in Golfweek’s junior rankings. But after falling to Barrett, 2 up, in the Round of 32 last year, Liu figures to have something to prove. Liu, who became the youngest U.S. Junior champion in 2010 at 14 years, 11 months and 15 days, and committed to Stanford earlier this year, can become just the third player in history to win two U.S. Junior titles – the other two being Tiger Woods and Spieth. . . . This year will be the first time that New Hampshire has hosted the U.S. Junior in the event’s 65-year history.
– Brentley Romine
• • •
U.S. Girls’ Junior
When: July 16-21
Where: Lake Merced Golf Club, Daly City, Calif.
Who: Six of the top 10 players in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings
The scoop: The U.S. Girls Junior hasn’t seen the West Coast since 2007 (Tacoma, Wash.). Staged in beautiful San Francisco this year, the tournament will be contested just miles down the road from The Olympic Club, the beastly track that hosted the U.S. Open last month.
The Girls’ Junior field of 156 players includes 30 players who hail from California. It also includes nine players who teed it up two weeks ago at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Ariya Jutanugarn is back to defend her title, but older sister Moriya declared herself ready to move on to bigger tournaments. Thanks to an injury, Moriya was on the bag last year when Ariya won the title. Moriya would be a big help to little sis again this year because of her skill in reading greens.
Even though the Jutanugarns are from Thailand, when they have downtime in the U.S., it’s usually spent in California. Both immediately name the Golden State as the place they’d like to move if they took up residence in the U.S. Put Ariya, a player who has won her last three starts, in her comfort zone, and she’s likely to excel … as usual.
Another international player, Lydia Ko of New Zealand, will be a big takedown for any player at Lake Merced. Ko, 15, was low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open, and won a professional event (the New South Wales Open) as a 14-year-old earlier this year. The last time she played a USGA amateur championship, last year’s Women’s Amateur, she was the stroke-play co-medalist. Expect big things from the bespectacled Kiwi.
As for the home-state favorite? That title falls on Alison Lee, a player who started the year with her first AJGA Invitational title courtesy of a long-overdue victory at the Annika Invitational. She’s also qualified for two of this season’s LPGA majors: the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open. She made the cut at the latter. If there’s a player to unseat Ariya Jutanugarn for Rolex Player of the Year honors, it’s Lee.
Who’s going to win: It’s tough to bet against Jutanugarn, especially considering the run she’s put together already this summer. There could be a few hair-of-her-chin matches this week, but if she doesn’t come out on top, it will be considered an upset.
Short shots: Jutanugarn is the only defending champion in the field, but Katelyn Dambaugh was runner-up in 2010 to Doris Chen. Karen Chung was runner-up at the Girls’ Junior in 2008. . . . Ashlan Ramsey is another player (and runner-up) to watch. She made it to the final match at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, but lost to Kyung Kim. . . . There’s a strong, albeit young, Hawaiian contingent in Eimi Koga, 16, and Allisen Corpuz, 14. Both are small but fierce, and both advanced to match play last year. This is the third Girls’ Junior start for both players, who hail from Honolulu.