Chen jumps ahead early at Golfweek Junior

Doris Chen during the first round of the Golfweek Junior Invitational.

Doris Chen during the first round of the Golfweek Junior Invitational.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Nicole Morales2014NY69.24
2Andrea Lee2016CA69.72
3Bethany Wu2015CA69.74
4Megan Khang2015MA69.92
5Lilia Vu2015CA70.44

REUNION, Fla. – Doris Chen can’t enter a tournament anymore without a target on her back. The 17-year-old U.S. Girls’ Junior champion emerges as a favorite in most fields, and the Golfweek Junior Invitational is no different.

The highest-ranked junior in the 31-player field – and the only one with such accomplishments as a spot on the Junior Ryder Cup team and a USGA title to her name – Chen swept into Reunion Resort on Saturday and posted the only even-par 72 on the girls’ leaderboard. As a cold front hit Central Florida, leaving temperatures in the 50s, Chen took a three-shot lead after Round 1.

It was a rough start for Chen, who showed up to the first tee clad in a sweater left over from the Junior Ryder Cup. After bogeys at three of her first four holes, the USC-commit turned it around to finish with birdies at Nos. 15-17 (she started on the back nine).

“I was hitting it well, but the shot would just sort of (fall) short,” she explained of her rocky start. “I didn’t catch the speed at first.”

Chen’s recovery is a testament to a strengthened mental game that came as a result of the pressure associated with winning a USGA title. Chen, however, is quick to downplay her accomplishments, and little has changed in the nearly four months since she won the crown at the U.S. Girls’ Junior: She still looks forward to every tournament, still maintains a full schedule, and hasn’t lost her soft-spoken demeanor.

“I didn’t really think about (my ranking),” she explained. “I think everybody is really good.”

Chen leads Vivian Chen, a 16-year-old from Bradenton, Fla., by three shots. Vivian struggled early, recording a four-putt double bogey at the par-4 13th (her fourth hole of the day) before adjusting to the greens, adding two birdies to her card and finishing at 3-over 75.

Annie Park, of Levittown, N.Y., is one of four players tied for third at 4-over 76. Park, who has taken lessons from Sean Foley for the past two years, continued a year-long battle with her putter Saturday, relying on her chipping to get her around the course.

“It’s more belief and more mental because I practice very well,” Park said of her stroke on the greens.

Monifa Sealy, a student at the Gary Gilchrist Academy, also had a 76 after six bogeys and two birdies. Sealy won the International Junior Golf Tour’s Tournament of Champions in May, but hasn’t recorded another major victory in the U.S. since after spending the summer in her native Trinidad. She struggled with the wind Saturday at Reunion, resulting in a number of missed fairways and forced up-and-downs for par.

Sealy has committed to Central Florida for the fall of 2011, where she hopes to be able to make an immediate impact for head coach Courtney Trimble.

“They’re a young school and they’re trying to build something new,” Sealy explained.

Ri Hyang Park’s 76 was the result of a double bogey at the 18th hole after she landed her approach in a bunker and failed to get out on the first swing.

“The lie wasn’t bad, just my bad swing,” she explained.

It was a common theme on Reunion’s Watson course, where bunkers lie around every corner and ran up several players’ scores.

Gabrielle Shipley was the final player at 4 over, and four players were T-7 another shot back. The winner of the event receives fully exempt status on the AJGA.

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