FootJoy Invitational preview
When: June 15-18
Where: Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro, N.C.
Who: Twenty-five of the top 50 in Golfweek’s junior rankings, including two of the top 10 (No. 1 Jordan Spieth, No. 5 Emiliano Grillo).
The scoop: Justin Thomas, Golfweek’s 16th-ranked junior, headlines the field for the fourth AJGA invitational of the season, and the only one in which the winner receives an exemption on the PGA Tour – the Wyndham Championship, to be played at Sedgefield Aug. 19-22. Last year, Thomas, then 16, won the FootJoy and used that sponsor exemption to become the third-youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event (he eventually tied for 78th).
Jordan Spieth, who finished eighth at the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior on May 31, was scheduled to play the FootJoy, but he withdrew Saturday after suffering a back injury during the second round of the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic, his second Tour event in the past three weeks. Spieth, 16, missed the cut by a shot in Memphis, after rounds of 73-69.
Paolucci, meanwhile, will attempt this week to win consecutive invitational titles. The 17-year-old from Del Mar, Calif., shot three rounds in the 60s to win the Thunderbird for his first AJGA victory. Paolucci, No. 12 in Golfweek’s rankings, is the fourth-highest ranked player in the field this week. He tied for second here last year, two shots behind Thomas, despite firing four sub-70 rounds.
Grayson Murray wasn’t even in the FootJoy field last year, and much has changed since. Murray, 16, from Raleigh, N.C., played the weekend last month at the Nationwide Tour’s Rex Hospital Open, then shot rounds of 75-72 at the Thunderbird before a final-round 64, the lowest score of the tournament, vaulted him into seventh.
Who’s going to win: Hard to look past Justin Thomas. Clearly he’s familiar and comfortable with Sedgefield – posting an 8-under-par 272 total to win last year – and he’s shown superb form of late, after a T-3 at the Thunderbird.
On our radar (outside Golfweek’s top 20): Keep an eye on Shun Yat Hak (No. 21), who won twice last year and has finished no worse than 14th in four events this season. He tied for 14th at the Thunderbird, his second-round 66 bookended by a 73 and 76. ... Another long shot is Billy Kennerly, at No. 39. He finished the FootJoy at 4-over 284 last year, a T-19, much of which can be attributed to a first-round 75.
Short shots: At No. 5, Emiliano Grillo is the second-highest ranked player in the field. In his most recent event, the Thunderbird, he shot a first-round 75 but recovered to post a respectable top-15 finish. ... Marcel Puyat (No. 28) has just one top-10 finish this year, but he made it count – a victory at the Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Championship on April 10. He posted four top-10 finishes last season.