Spieth, Tanco primed for USGA junior action
Editor’s note: Golfweek.com brings you closer to the action at the U.S. Junior than anyone else. Here is all you need to know about the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior.
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U.S. Junior Amateur
When: July 19-24
Where: Egypt Valley Country Club, Ada, Mich.
Who: Six of the top 10 players in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings (No. 1 Bobby Wyatt, No. 2 Jordan Spieth, No. 4 Oliver Schniederjans, No. 5 Denny McCarthy, No. 6 Emiliano Grillo, No. 8 Anthony Paolucci).
Staff picks: U.S. Junior Amateur, U.S. Girls’ Junior
The scoop: Jordan Spieth has not won every junior start since his eye-opening PGA Tour debut, nor has he dominated since his triumph at the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur, for that matter. In fact, last month, after winning the HP Byron Nelson Junior for a third consecutive year, Spieth told reporters, “I haven’t really won anything big in a while, so it feels good to win.”
2009: Jordan Spieth - Trump National G.C.
2008: Cameron Peck - Shoal Creek
2007: Cory Whitsett - Boone Valley G.C.
2006: Philip Francis - Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) G.C.
2005: Kevin Tway - Longmeadow (Mass.) C.C.
2004: Sihwan Kim - The Olympic Club
2003: Brian Harman - Columbia C.C.
2002: Charlie Beljan - Atlanta Athletic Club
2001: Henry Liaw - Oak Hills C.C.
2000: Matthew Rosenfeld - Pumpkin Ridge G.C.
1999: Hunter Mahan - Country Club Of York, (Pa.)
1998: James Oh - Conway Farms Golf Club
1997: Jason Allred - Aronimink Golf Club
1996: Shane McMenamy - Flagstaff (Ariz.) Golf Club
1995: D. Scott Hailes - Fargo (N.D.) Country Club
Spieth has played four significant junior events since winning the U.S. Junior last July. Not once has he finished worse than T-8, at the Thunderbird International Junior, an AJGA invitational played a few days after the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship, at which Spieth tied for 16th. Still, consensus holds that Spieth, Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked junior, is the player to beat next week at Egypt Valley Country Club.
But to listen to U.S. Golf Association president Jim Hyler, Spieth’s competition may be stiffer than ever.
“What an incredible time,” said Hyler, in Arkansas last month to present the President’s Leadership Award at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions dinner. “There are a lot of young players who are very polished ... and as the players excel in these tournaments and the quality of golf is at a very high level, naturally it prepares them for the U.S. Junior.”
Anthony Paolucci, No. 8 in Golfweek’s rankings, figures to pose the greatest challenge. A surprise finalist in ’07, a few months shy of starting high school, Paolucci is playing arguably the best golf of his career, following his recent victory at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions. Despite a double bogey on the final hole at Blessings Golf Club, Paolucci was the only player to finish under par on a course that some proclaimed was the hardest they’d ever seen.
Reflecting on his ’07 Junior run, Paolucci said, “Well, I’m three years older now, my game is a lot better. I can hit more shots, I’ve got a better attitude on the course. I’m going into the Junior having played well all summer.”
Paolucci, 17, of Del Mar, Calif., was bounced in the first round of match play last year at Trump National, losing to Marcel Puyat. That early exit spurred Paolucci to adopt a new approach at this year’s national championship.
“It’s always been a struggle to make the cut after stroke play, thinking I don’t want to be the No. 1 seed,” he said. “I always said I just want to be one of the 64 and play a little more conservatively and avoiding making double bogeys. But when I’m out here playing (in other stroke-play events), I’m trying to make birdies. So I’m going to try to be medalist, and if I don’t, I should still be among the 64.”
Last year, Spieth became the first stroke-play medalist to win the championship since Matthew Rosenfeld, in 2000. A win in Michigan would make Spieth just the second player to win back-to-back Junior titles. Tiger Woods won three straight from 1991-93.
Since his triumph last July, he has failed to finish outside the top 10 in his last four “major” events: runner-up at Junior PGA; T-3 at Polo Junior; 2nd at HP Boys; and T-8 at Thunderbird. Spieth narrowly missed the cut at the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic, but withdrew before the start of the AJGA FootJoy Invitational because of a mild muscle strain in his back. After a short break, and fully recovered, Spieth won the HP Byron Nelson Junior for the third straight year.
He can only hope his defense at the U.S. Junior goes as smoothly.
Who’s going to win: Hard to bet against Spieth. Seldom has the field been this deep, but seldom has a junior player been so polished at such a young age.
Short shots: Bobby Wyatt, who has moved atop the Golfweek Junior Rankings, was one of five players to qualify at Pinetree Country Club near Atlanta. Wyatt, who will attend Alabama in the fall, won the AJGA HP Boys Championship in February, when he held off then-top-ranked Spieth. ... Justin Thomas, the Terra Cotta Amateur champ and No. 12 in Golfweek’s rankings, was one of two players to advance out of a qualifier in Bowling Green, Ky. Last August, Thomas, then 16, became the third-youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event (Wyndham Championship). ... Denny McCarthy, who earlier this week gave a verbal commitment to Virginia, qualified in Annapolis, Md. McCarthy is now No. 5 in Golfweek’s rankings. ... Egypt Valley played host to the Champions Tour’s now-defunct Foremost Insurance Championship from 1994-2004. ... Egypt Valley has a pair of 18-hole layouts, and tournaments officials will use the inward nines on both the Valley and Ridge courses to comprise the championship 18, the same format used during the Champions Tour events. ... It’s been 30 years since Michigan last hosted a U.S. Junior Amateur (Pine Lake Country Club in Orchard Lake, won by Eric Johnson).
– Ryan Lavner
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U.S. Girls’ Junior
When: July 19-24
Where: Country Club of North Carolina (Dogwood Course), Village of Pinehurst, N.C.
Scoop: Take a look at the U.S. Girls’ Junior field, and the first thing that sticks out is the number of seasoned players in this championship. The Country Club of North Carolina isn’t hosting just any junior tournament next week, but one where the entrant list includes players who have seen action everywhere from the U.S. Women’s Open to AJGA invitationals to past USGA amateur events – there’s even a Golfweek All-American (Pepperdine’s Danielle Kang) in the field and a member of the elite LPGA Mojo 6 field (Mariah Stackhouse).
In other words, prepare yourself for one heck of a championship.
2009: Amy Anderson - Trump National G.C.
2008: Alexis Thompson - Hartford G.C.
2007: Kristen Park - Tacoma C. & G.C.
2006: Jenny Shin - Carmel C.C.
2005: In-Kyung Kim - BanBury G.C.
2004: Julieta Granada - Mira Vista G.C.
2003: Sukjin-Lee Wuesthoff - Brooklawn C.C.
2002: In-Bee Park - Echo Lake C.C.
2001: Nicole Perrot - Indian Hills C.C.
2000: Lisa Ferrero - Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club
1999: Aree Wongluekiet - Green Spring Valley H.C.
1998: Leigh Anne Hardin - Merion G.C. (East Course)
1997: Beth Bauer - Legends G.C. of Tenn. (Ironwood)
1996: Dorothy Delasin - Westward Ho C.C.
1995: Marcy Newton - Longmeadow (Mass.) C.C.
Among the headliners at the 62nd playing of the U.S. Girls’ Junior are Golfweek’s top-ranked player, Victoria Tanco. After being ousted by eventual champion Amy Anderson at last year’s tournament – and not having garnered a big win in 2010 since the AJGA’s Annika Invitational Feb. 15 – expect this Argentine to come out firing. The same might be said for Yueer Cindy Feng. She’s won two of the three AJGA invitationals she’s entered this year, but has yet to find USGA success after being knocked out in the first round of match play last year.
When it comes to returning players who could go all the way this year, keep an eye on Duke commit Luz Alejandra Cangrejo and 17-year-old Doris Chen. Both were semifinalists last year – Cangrejo even took Anderson to sudden death – and both are among Golfweek’s top-10 ranked juniors. Who knows what either is capable with another year of competitive golf under their belts.
One more player to keep an eye on? Try Ariya Jutanugarn. The 14-year-old was medalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links last month, and certainly has the consistency and the distance to hang with any player she might meet on the match-play bracket. Even after being ousted in the Round of 16 at the WAPL by Auburn star Cydney Clanton – and tweaking her wrist hitting out of heavy rough in the process – Jutanugarn continued to haunt the practice facilities at the Warren Course at Notre Dame for the rest of the week. She’s famous for taking down Alexis Thompson in the Round of 16 at last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior. It isn’t out of the question that this year’s fame could come in the form of a trophy.
Who’s going to win: It’s hard to overlook Kang, who has a tendency to steamroll whatever field she’s in, all while maintaining her cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor. She’s arguably the most experienced player in this tournament after spending a semester in the college ranks (where she won the first tournament she entered and ended the season with a T-15 at the NCAA Championship) and making the cut at last week’s U.S. Women’s Open. She was also the medalist at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Kang has the potential to roll right through next week to the final match without anyone really knowing what happened.
Short shots: Kristen Park is the only past winner in the field, as 2009 champion Amy Anderson has passed the age limit of 17, while 2008 champion Alexis Thompson and 2006 champion Jenny Shin turned pro this year. . . . The USGA received 1,005 entries for the 2010 playing of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, which surpasses the previous record of 999 entries in 2009. . . . The best sister act in Pinehurst has to be A.J. and Anna Newell. A.J., ranked No. 40 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, is a Tennessee commit, and the two are superstars on the Pinellas County, Fla., high school golf scene. . . . Ginger Howard should be able to conjure up some pretty good vibes at the Country Club of North Carolina, after winning the 2008 Trusted Choice “Big I” National Championship there. She’ll also have little sister Robbi on the bag next week, which should up the comfort factor even more. . . . If her qualifying round is any indication, Emma Talley could be one tough competitor in Pinehurst. Talley posted a 65 at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex’s Kampen Course to earn medalist honors by eight shots.
– Julie Williams