Jackson Rivera, Ashley Menne capture Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational

Ron Gaines/Golfweek

Jackson Rivera, Ashley Menne capture Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational

Junior

Jackson Rivera, Ashley Menne capture Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational

MESA, Ariz. – Consider Jackson Rivera to be on the fast track in his golf career. His high school days sitting squarely ahead of him, the eighth grader from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., has already committed to play golf at USC. He routinely wins against decidedly older competition and he’s very much in his comfort zone firing insanely low numbers on the golf course.

In this weekend’s Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational played at Mesa Country Club, Rivera throttled a strong field of ranked players – many three and four years his elder – and demonstrated a level of comfort normally reserved for seasoned veterans and professionals. Rivera posted rounds of 67-66—133 in claiming a seven-shot victory only several weeks after earning medalist honors at the World Junior Golf qualifier at La Costa.

“I got here Thursday and played a practice round, and again on Friday,” Rivera said. “That was the first time I’ve seen the course and I pretty much had it figured out that I need to focus on playing to the middle of the fairways and greens on the par 3s and par 4s, then be aggressive on the par 5s.”

Rivera made it look easy, recording birdies on seven of the 10 par-5 holes over two days and notching seven other birdies along the way.

His victory truly was wire-to-wire as he birdied the opening hole of the tournament and played the first 10 holes in 5 under to surge ahead of the field. With Rivera carrying a four-shot lead into the final round, Sunday was no time to take the foot off the accelerator – that’s not Rivera’s style.

“I always play aggressive; I don’t like to play safe,” Rivera said. “If anything, I was probably more conservative at this event than I usually am. I could reach all the par 5s in two, so I just needed to putt from off the green a lot and hit chip shots close. That’s what I did, and I was able to make a lot of putts.”

On Sunday, Rivera offered zero glimmer of hope to his playing partners. Despite pulling his tee shot on the opening hole, he recovered to make birdie and then went on to reel off more birdies at Nos. 5, 6, 8, 12 and 13. His run ended with back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15.

For Rivera, beating the older players has become something he expects to do. He does not get intimidated by players who may obviously be bigger and stronger.

“I’ve always played up with older kids, since I was 8 years old,” Rivera said. “They’d see me play and want me to play with them. So now, I play against older players (in tournaments) and it’s something I’m used to.”

Rivera is currently ranked No. 182 in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior rankings and he took down a couple of top-100 players in the field. Alexander Yang, currently No. 23, shot Sunday’s low round for a 75-65—140 total, tying him for second place with Chase White (No. 739) and Alexander Pak (No. 893). White and Pak, both surely to rise rapidly in the rankings following their performances, finished at 73-67—140 and 72-68—140, respectively.

Roberto Nieves, traveling all the way from Miami, Fla., torched Mesa Country Club with a 29 inward nine Sunday to tie for fifth at 75-66—141. He shared fifth place with Connor Howe (74-67—141) and Ethan Chung, who rode an ace and an eagle-2 en route to 72-69—141.

Menne surges to victory in Girls division

Ashley Menne enjoyed a measure of home-cooking to capture the Girls division of the Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational at Mesa Country Club.

Menne, who resides in nearby Surprise, Ariz., surprised no one in winning. Ranked No. 44 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, Menne overcame a three-shot deficit in the final round in beating a strong field by four shots.

“I’ve played the course four or five times in tournaments, so that might be (an advantage),” Menne said. “I get to sleep in my own bed during the tournament, so I think that helps a lot.”

It also helps to be on fire with your wedge, which Menne surely was this weekend. After an opening-round 1-under 72 put her three shots behind Therese Warner of Kennewick, Wash., Menne went on a tear early Sunday to take control.

She birdied the first hole then followed that up with birdies at Nos. 5 and 6 to give her a one-shot lead she would never relinquish.

At No. 1, she hit her drive into a bunker, but recovered with a 60-yard wedge to 2 feet that set up the birdie.

“That put me in the groove,” Menne said. “I wasn’t really thinking about (Warner) or the score; I was just thinking, ‘Come out and play my best and not worry about too many things.’ ”

The victory was a measure of payback, as Warner beat Menne by one shot in a recent USGA qualifier. But this weekend would belong to Menne. Holding a two-shot lead through 14, Menne’s birdie at the 15th engineered a two-shot swing in her favor, but that wasn’t enough for Menne.

“I didn’t feel like I had it won until the 17th,” Menne said. “On No. 17, I made birdie and then I kind of felt like I would win. I wouldn’t go for the green on (the par-5) 18(th), so I just played it safe.”

Menne finished at 72-68—140 while Warner would eagle the final hole in finishing alone in second place at 69-75—144. The eagle would be Warner’s second of the event as she also eagled the 10th on Saturday during a spectacular back-nine 31.

Madeleine Laux made a strong surge on Sunday, firing 71 to finish alone in third with a 149 total. That was followed by Chandler Rosholt (77-73—150) and Makenzie Niblett (75-75—150). The pair tied for fourth place.

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