THORNHILL, Ont. – Living back home in the friendly confines of her native Canada, Tiana Cruz channeled her new comfort level into a victory at the Golfweek Canadian Junior Invitational Friday at Bayview Golf and Country Club.
A former boarding student at the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., Cruz has returned to Canada for her senior year of high school and enjoying sleeping in her home bed and playing the hometown courses. She fired rounds of 77-85—162 to beat Haley Barclay by three shots.
“It was fun at times and sometimes you get homesick,” Cruz said of her experience at IJGA. “It’s a very different environment – I think it’ll be a little better here. I have a little more freedom as opposed to at a boarding school and I’ll actually feel like a kid instead of being on a schedule every day. It was very tiring.”
Winning this week at Bayview must have also been tiring. Battling through a rain delay and wet conditions Thursday, Cruz’ 77 was outstanding and included two long putts sank at 10 and 18, the latter key to her confidence entering Friday’s final round.
“I hit almost every single fairway (Thursday), but today I had to scramble a lot,” Cruz said. “The putt on 18, I needed that just to finish a day like that. It was more for my state of mind, me walking off feeling like ‘Okay, I can play tomorrow again and it’ll be better and I can get it back.’”
Sinking the 25-foot par putt on 18 gave her a 3-shot lead over Jennifer Gu entering the final round and through the first nine holes she stretched that lead to four. At the par-5 11th, things didn’t look pretty, but Cruz somehow found a way to make birdie and take complete control of the tournament.
Thinking she hadn’t hit a single good shot on the hole, she still found herself with a 10-footer for birdie that she was able to coax into the hole.
“I kind of pulled my drive a little short of the fairway bunker, then I hit a really bad second shot,” Cruz said. “I thought I could go for the green and I mis-hit it again and pulled it into the left rough.”
With 61 yards left to the pin, Cruz hit an approach that she thought was too strong and would sail over the green. Much to her surprise, the ball ended up 10 feet from the hole.
“That is the perfect way to describe golf.”
Cruz has been battling a spotty putter, but seemed to get things under control this week as evidenced by her success on the fast greens of Bayview. It’s been more a factor of getting her mind right than her actual stroke.
“I’m going to go and really work on my putting again . . . more of my thoughts over the ball, the mental strategy,” said Cruz, who earned an automatic invitation to the Golfweek International Junior Invitational in which she competed in last year on and IJGA at-large invitation. “I think I expect to make too many putts and that might be the problem.
“Before, when I was over putts I would be thinking ‘Don’t pull it’ or ‘You’re aiming too much left or too much right’ so right now it’s just focusing on my target, where I want to hit the ball, because your mind only processes the main word, it doesn’t process the negatives.”
Barclay surged to a second-place finish with rounds of 81-84–165 while Gu placed alone in third at 80-88–168.
Two more events remain in the 2017 Golfweek Junior Tournament Series with the Golfweek Southeast Junior Team Challenge Sept. 9-10 at Litchfield Country Club in Pawleys Island, S.C. and November’s International scheduled to be played at Innisbrook Resort in Florida.