2000: Wittenberg, Janangelo ride to Polo titles
Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
A week that began with doubt ended in joy for the champions of the Polo Golf Junior Classic Nov. 25 at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magnolia Course.
Casey Wittenberg birdied four holes on the back nine to defeat Ryan Baca, 3 and 2, and Elizabeth Janangelo won three of the last four holes to beat Irene Cho, 2 and 1, in the event that marked the beginning of the 2001 season for the American Junior Golf Association.
“It’s a big relief to get the first win under my belt,” said Wittenberg, 15. “Coming into the week, I realistically didn’t think I had a shot to win, but as the week went on, my confidence grew.”
Janangelo, 17, a four-time Connecticut State Women’s Amateur champion from West Hartford, also was astonished with the victory.
“With so many great players in the field, my initial goal was just to make the cut,” Janangelo said. “This means so much to me because I’ve really worked hard on my fitness level the last few months. That made a great deal of difference, playing five matches along with 36 holes of qualifying in five days.”
Wittenberg, of Memphis, Tenn., got off to a quick start against Baca, going 2 up after three holes, an advantage he held until the par-4, 371-yard 11th. Wittenberg caught a fairway bunker off the tee, hit out, then found a greenside bunker with his third shot.
Baca, a 17-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas, hit his second shot to 7 feet and Wittenberg conceded the hole.
At the par-3, 169-yard 12th, Wittenberg hit the flagstick and holed the 6-foot birdie putt to regain his 2-up lead.
“I got to hole No. 12 and started to zero in,” Wittenberg said. “I was going at the pin all day but then I started to really go at the pin.”
After Baca won the 13th with par, he conceded the par-5 14th after he hit his third shot into the water. Wittenberg then added a birdie at 15 to go 3 up and the duo traded pars at 16 to end the match.
“I didn’t play very well,” said Baca, who will attend Baylor University next year. “I made the putts I needed to all week; I just didn’t today. Overall, I’m pretty pleased.”
Baca had to scramble to make it into the match-play portion of the event. At qualifying on the Palm Course, he made a 10-footer for par on 16, got up-and-down for par on 17 and made par in the dark on 18 to make the cut by one shot and qualify in the 32nd and final position.
Wittenberg’s route to the championship went through defending champion Nick Dougherty of Lancashire, England, whom he beat, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals. He defeated Colby Beckstrom, 5 and 3, in the semifinals.
“This was a big win for my confidence level,” Wittenberg said. “He (Baca) didn’t play his best, but at times, you need luck to win a tournament like this. I didn’t come this far to lose.”
Matthew Rosenfeld, ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Titleist Performance Index and the 2000 Polo Golf Junior of the Year, fell in the third round to Mark Donnell, 2 and 1. Donnell lost to Baca, 5 and 4, in the semifinals.
In the girls’ final, Janangelo made the turn all square with Cho. On the closing nine, the two halved only one of eight holes.
With a 1-up lead, Janangelo conceded the 14th hole after two tee shots found the woods. She regained the lead on 15, converting a two-putt par from 45 feet as Cho three-putted from 30 feet.
“Putting is not my strong point,” Janangelo said. “I have no rhyme or reason to what I do, I just get up and try to putt it close.”
Janangelo made birdie from 20 feet at No. 16 and Cho missed a 6-footer for birdie. With a 2-up lead heading to 17, Janangelo ended the match with a two-putt par.
Janangelo’s closest match was a 1-up quarterfinal victory over Allison Martin. She beat Kelly Husted, 2 and 1, in the semifinals.
Cho of La Habra, Calif., who was competing in her first match-play tournament, defeated Polo Golf Player of the Year Aree Song Wongluekiet in the quarterfinals, 1 up. Defending champion Naree Song Wongluekiet, Aree’s 14-year-old twin sister, lost in the first round to Brittany Lincicome, 1 up.
“I’m really happy to make it to the finals. It was a good learning experience,” said Cho, 16. “I couldn’t make anything today. I wasn’t nervous; they just didn’t go in.”
– Graham Elliott contributed to this report