Paolucci, Park competing at Royal St. Georges

Anthony Paolucci

One of the longest hitters in junior golf, Anthony Paolucci on Wednesday hit 6-iron from 125 yards. And came up short.

OK, so Golfweek’s top-ranked junior wasn’t playing in sunny Southern California, where the ball flies for miles and the temperature is just a shade above perfect.

Far from it, in fact.

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USC signee Kristen Park broke out of a long slump by winning the AJGA Rolex of Champions and AJGA Ping Invite in 2010 on her way to becoming the Rolex Junior Player of the Year.

Paolucci and Kristen Park are representing the United States this week at the prestigious Duke of York Young Champions Trophy at Royal St. Georges, in what should serve as an apt precursor to this month’s Junior Ryder Cup. On Wednesday, the temperature in Kent, England, barely eclipsed 50 degrees, the winds gusted to 40 mph, and Paolucci trudged around the links course wearing no less than three layers.

“The sun’s been out today,” said Paolucci, 17, “but it’s been pretty chilly.”

Still, Paolucci (75-79) is in the hunt for the title, tied for ninth, eight shots back of leader Gudmundur Kristjansson of Iceland, with one round to go. Park, 17, a winner earlier this season at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, is tied for 27th after rounds of 80-81.

This is Paolucci’s first true exposure to links golf. Unable to hit high, soft shots around the greens, he learned quickly that he needed to play a low, bump-and-run that funneled between the mounds on Royal St. Georges’ bumpy, baked-out greens. He can’t rear back and rip a driver on every par 5, either. (On a 540-yard hole Wednesday, he hit 2-iron, 3-iron, 5-iron.)

Most importantly, though, “I’ve got to learn how to hit a 5-iron 10 feet off the ground, one that flies 140 yards and rolls 40 feet,” he said.

Of course, it’s impossible to practice that shot at The Bridges, his immaculate home course near San Diego.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before,” Paolucci said. “You really have to run everything up. The ball flight in the U.S. is so high, and even my low ball is still higher than everyone else’s regular ball. It’s just a really, really different style of play.”

Paolucci and his family left Los Angeles on Sept. 10, and he won’t return to high school until Oct. 5. “That’s about 10-12 class periods to make up,” he lamented. “Not gonna be fun.”

The payoff is that Paolucci arrived in Europe about a week and a half before his Junior Ryder Cup teammates, so he plans to squeeze in a few rounds at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield and Royal Troon – all of which are in the Open rotation.

“I guess we’ll kill some time that way,” he said.

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