Junior Invitational offers experience like no other

Nicholas Reach, in his gold jacket, after winning the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.

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1Andy Zhang2016FL68.46
2Brad Dalke2016OK68.75
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With hundreds of competing tournaments and travel obstacles, how is it possible to get the top 54 juniors in the world to Graniteville, S.C. for a first-year tournament?

You can start by paying for their travel. . . and their lodging. . . and their food. . . and professional caddies.

And in case anyone’s not convinced, throw in a golf course that junior standout Patrick Rodgers called “the best he’s ever played.”

Not sure Charl Schwartzel got that sort of treatment 15 miles down the road in Augusta.

Make no mistake, this was a reality for the 54 players invited to play in April’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club. In its first year, the inaugural event became Golfweek’s top-ranked tournament.

It’s not tough to see where the tournament draws its inspiration – the goal is to make the event into junior golf’s version of the Masters, right down to the winner’s blazer, which was presented by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. (At Sage Valley, it’s a gold blazer, but I believe most players shared Happy Gilmore's indifference to gold jackets or green jackets.)

“That’s an aggressive goal, certainly; making our own junior version of what they do down in Augusta,” said Dave Christensen, general manager of Sage Valley, “but you never achieve greatness unless you aim for greatness.”

Much in the way the Masters is revered by professionals, the juniors, which came from 19 states and 19 different countries, couldn’t find a bad thing to say about the week at Sage Valley.

“I only had to be there for 20 minutes and I knew it was the best tournament I had ever been to,” said Rodgers, who finished as distant runner-up to incoming Georgia freshman Nicholas Reach.

Nicholas Reach, who won by an astounding eight shots, opened the tournament with a record-tying 10-under 62 and he continued to cruise throughout the final 36 holes. During his opening round, he said he completely lost track of how far under par he was on the front nine.

Reach earned a Nationwide Tour start for his victory – he missed the cut by four shots at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open.

When the tournament was over, players could even re-live the week with their families, as CBS broadcast an hour-long special dedicated to the event.

• • •

Strength of tournaments (with field size)

1.) The Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club presented by Electrolux (54)

2.) AJGA PING Invitational (42)

3.) AJGA The Junior PLAYERS Championship (76)

4.) AJGA Thunderbird International Junior (48)

5.) HP Boys Championship At Carlton Woods (76)

6.) AJGA Polo Junior Golf Classi (77)

7.) AJGA AJGA FootJoy Invitational (99)

8.) Junior Heritage (45)

9.) AJGA Rolex Tournament Of Champions (76)

10.) Junior Orange Bowl International (52)

11.) U.S. Junior Championship (154)

12.) Jones Cup Junior (77)

13.) Bobby Chapman Junior Invitationa (77)

14.) Carolinas/Georgia Junior (60)

15.) Scott Robertson Memorial (88)

16.) AJGA Puerto Rico Junior Open (59)

17.) Golfweek Junior Invitational (45)

18.) 35th Junior PGA Championship (75)

19.) AJGA Under Armour®/Hunter Mahan Championship Open (50)

20.) AJGA TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Junior At Innisbrook (132)

21.) AJGA Exide Technologies Junior Open (53)

22.) AJGA Junior At Savannah Quarters (53)

23.) Joe Cheves Junior Invitational (74)

24.) AJGA Golf Pride Junior Classic (74)

25.) AJGA Montverde Academy Junior All-Star Invitational (52)

26.) AJGA Winn Grips Heather Farr Classic Hosted By Longbow Golf Club (95)

27.) Toyota Tour Cup Championship (39)

28.) Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational (49)

29.) Western Junior Championship (154)

30.) AJGA Under Armour/Vicky Hurst Championship (54)

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