FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Samantha Wagner was largely overlooked on Tuesday evening. The 15-year-old crept into the clubhouse at Sycamore Hills behind a veritable explosion of birdies, bogeys and doubles directly ahead of her. She lodged her name into the second position on the leaderboard with a 67, then returned a steady 71 to remain there on Wednesday.
How did a round of six birdies and a single bogey go unnoticed? Because the majority of the spectators who remained just before sunset at the Junior PGA Championship had all eyes on Ariya Jutanugarn and Casie Cathrea, two high-intensity players who put together lopsided rounds on Tuesday. Cathrea went out in 31 before finishing at 2-under 70. Jutanugarn birdied her final three holes to get to 66. That score, a course record, left the defending champion in the lead.
Wagner’s first round was similar to one she shot earlier this year, at the AJGA Annika Invitational. That 67 – six birdies, one bogey – bumped her into a share of the lead entering the final round. She came back with 81, however, to finish in a share of 14th. Six months later, Wagner knows how to hold it together.
When Wagner speaks, it’s with authority. Despite playing in her fourth summer tournament in a row, she’s running on adrenaline, not fumes. She follows most Twitter posts with the hash tag #golflife.
“I love golf,” she said. “I love everything about it.”
It’s why, directly after losing in the first round of the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago, she roamed Lake Merced Golf Club in search of a bag to pick up for the rest of the week. She didn’t qualify for next week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, so she’ll cap the Junior PGA with a trip to Cleveland anyway to caddie for friend Abbey Carlson. Both will play golf next year for Circle Christian School in Winter Park, Fla.
A passion for the game is also why Wagner is prospering a week after the AJGA Wyndham Cup. Even though the tournament was played practically in her backyard at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, she opted to stay in player lodging with everyone else.
“I just got my confidence back at Wyndham Cup,” she said. “It was just good to have a team supporting you. It boosted my confidence a lot.”
Wagner, in the class of 2015, committed earlier this year to play for Florida earlier and has been unwavering in her Gator love. That campus is only a couple of hours from her Windermere, Fla., home. She practices there with swing coach Henri Reis, even though she hasn’t taken a lesson since last November. Wagner underwent a total swing overhaul right before the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Championship last fall, and is still struggling with it a little.
The self-described feel player is trying to hold it together until the end of this tournament, the last she’ll play before visiting with Reis again.
“It doesn’t feel right right now, but it’s working so I’m just going to leave it,” she said.