Schneider, Liu win Golfweek Jr. Series

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WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – Brandon Liu grew up breaking wooden boards with a move called the tornado roundhouse kick. At the first event of the Golfweek Junior Series on Sunday, he delivered a knock-out punch.

Liu ran off six birdies in a 1-under 69 to come from four shots back to win the Golfweek Junior at Saddlebrook Resort and earn an exemption into the Golfweek Junior Invitational in November. He finished three shots ahead of first-round leader Jason Chen, who closed with 76.

“I needed to play strong,” Liu said.

Liu, 16, holds a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a sport he started as a 4-year-old. Though he gave it up three years ago to concentrate on golf, the self-discipline and perseverance he learned paid off early in the final round.

After a par on his first hole, Liu hit his drive on No. 2 out of bounds and made triple bogey to fall seven shots back of Chen. Undeterred, Liu followed with a 6-iron to 5 feet on the next hole and made birdie. He then played his final 14 holes in 4 under.

“I’ve just learned to never quit,” Liu said. “I wasn’t going to let it all go.”

While Liu was clawing his way back, Chen bogeyed Nos. 6-8, then hooked his tee ball out of bounds on the par-4 ninth. He made triple bogey to make the turn in 5 over. On the back nine, Chen, an eigth-grader from Brea, Calif., couldn’t put any pressure of Liu.

“It didn’t go well,” Chen said.

Liu sealed his victory with a birdie from 10 feet on the par-4 18th. As his putt rolled into the hole, Liu unleashed a black-belt worthy fist pump.

In total, Liu owns 30 belts from nine years of Taw Kwon Do. In order to earn his third-degree black belt, Liu punched through three wooden boards that were six inches thick. Impressive? Very. But to Liu, his closing round at the Golfweek Junior stands out.

“The boards might hurt,” Liu said. “But the 69 is much tougher mentally.”

ALSO IN THE TOP FIVE: Edward Waller, a 17-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., parred his last six holes to shoot 72 and earn an exemption into the Golfweek Junior Invitational by a shot. He started the round tied for 13th.

J.D. Tremmel also moved into the top 5 with birdies on two of his last five holes. The 17-year-old from Columbus, Ohio closed with 72.

Thomas Wicker, who started two shots back of Chen to start the final round, birdied Nos. 14 and 17, but made a quadruple bogey on his final hole to finish third, six off the pace.

• • •

Ericka Schneider was having just another ho-hum round Sunday by the time she reached the par-4 fifth, her 14th hole.

Then someone cued the fireworks.

Schneider holed a gap wedge shot from 110 yards for eagle that sent her pulse racing and the small group of spectators watching into a frenzy.

“I heard someone say, ‘That’s going in the hole,’ ” Schneider said. “I hit it dead at it. One hop and it went in.”

For an encore, Schneider rolled in a 40-footer for birdie on her next hole en route to a closing 70, the best competitive score in her junior career, to top Linda Luo and Alexandra Milan by four shots. Not too shabby for the high school senior from Bradenton, Fla., who picked up a golf club for the first time as a ninth grader.

What was she doing before golf?

“Bashing people into the boards,” Schneider said, laughing.

The 17-year-old grew up playing the sport she loved – ice hockey. For six years, Schneider played on an all-boys team and loved the excitement and competitiveness skating with the guys. But when she switched to a girls team in eighth grade, Schneider only lasted a year.

“It wasn’t as intense as I wanted it to be,” she said.

That’s when she picked up golf, and progressed quickly. Schneider won a small junior event in Lakeland, Fla., last summer and qualified in September for the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, where she paired with Champions Tour player Andy Bean to make the cut. This winter she won a Greater Sarasota Junior Golf Association tournament. After graduating from high school next month, she’ll play on scholarship for Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the fall.

“Golf has taken lots and lots of practice, and lots of lots of dedication,” Schneider said.

IN THE TOP FIVE: Stephanie Liu, whose brother Brandon won the boys division, also earned an into the Golfweek Junior Invitational by finishing fifth. The 11-year-old closed with 78.

Milan posted the day’s second-best score – 75 – and tied for second. The 16-year-old from Lutz, Fla., is No. 1 in her high school class of 850 students and has a 4.92 GPA.

Luo, 16, who moved from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to the IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla., took three shots to get her ball out of a greenside bunker on her fourth hole, the par-4 13th. She closed with 77 to finish runner-up with Milan.

Mariel Curran started the final round a shot behind Luo, but made two double bogeys and a triple bogey in a closing 80. She finished fourth. Curran, a 17-year-old from St. James, N.Y., finished second at the Metropolitan Junior PGA New York City Championship last summer.

HEADING TO ORLANDO: The top 5 boys and girls, including ties, earned an exemption into the Golfweek Junior Invitational Nov. 7-8 at Reunion Resort in Orlando, Fla.

Three more Junior Series qualifiers have been set.

• Sept. 4-6, Treetops Resort, Gaylord, Mich.

• Sept. 26-27, Longbow Golf Club, Mesa, Ariz.

• Oct. 24-25, Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, Southern Pines, N.C.

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