2012 in preview: Junior golf storylines
1.) What can Gavin Hall do when he’s healthy? The affable lefty from Pittsford, N.Y., spent much of 2011 sidelined with a wrist injury that eventually required arthroscopic surgery in March. Shortly after his return he won the AJGA’s Junior Players in March, which begs the question, what can this player do when totally healthy? A member of the class of 2013, stay tuned also for an upcoming college decision.
2.) Will Cody Proveaux remain the dominant player in junior golf? Sure Hall looks to be on the rise, but he’ll have serious competition from Proveaux, the star of the 2011 season. The Clemson commit was named the Rolex Player of the Year in 2011 after runner-up finishes in three AJGA Invitationals. Proveaux may have an unconventional swing, but it served him well in 2011.
3.) Will Shun Yat Hak make more noise? He may be the top-ranked player in the Golfweek Junior Rankings, but Hak is a player who seems to fly under the radar. Even after winning the Rolex Tournament of Champions -- a victory he called the high point of his career -- few seem to remember the quiet Hak. After finishing T-46 at the European Tour’s Hong Kong Open, Hak should have plenty of confidence to defend his top ranking in 2012.
4.) And speaking of little-knowns, what’s in store for Sam Horsfield? The 14-year-old Floridian is dominant in the Sunshine State but check this out: In a nine-hole match with PGA Tour star Ian Poulter, Horsfield came out on top, defeating the 16th-ranked player in the world. Though they both shot even-par for 9 holes, with Sam playing from one tee marker forward, Sam defeated Poulter in match play, 1 up. More lofty goals include a spot on the 2013 Walker Cup team, and U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateur victories.
5.) Brad Dalke inches closer to his 2016 graduation date, but will his loyalty remain with Oklahoma? OK, so this really isn’t even a question. Dalke made news when he committed to Oklahoma as a 12-year-old in 2010. He’s since backed it up on the course by winning the Thunderbird Invitational as a 13-year-old. Dalke bleeds Sooner pride, so it’s in that spirit that we proclaim it time to forget the college commitment and focus on the level of talent this player continues to show.
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1.) Will a junior golfer be selected to represent the U.S. at the Curtis Cup? The first five players on the U.S. Curtis Cup team were announced shortly before Christmas, and all five are collegiate players. Tiffany Lua (UCLA), Austin Ernst (LSU), Amy Anderson (North Dakota State), Brooke Pancake (Alabama) and Lindy Duncan (Duke) will provide a solid, experienced base for the squad, but three yet-unannounced players will join them. If one happens to be a junior, top prospects include Alison Lee and Jaye Marie Green, both of whom have experience in U.S. team golf thanks to the Junior Solheim Cup.
2.) What’s next for the Jutanugarns? Ariya (16) and Moriya (15) have been seated firmly atop Golfweek’s Junior Rankings for a considerable amount of time, and could retain their spots for the forseeable future. What’s to come for the junior players this year? I expect them to play even more tournaments in the U.S. (possibly entering more Monday qualifiers to get more LPGA experience) and continued domination on the junior circuit. Don’t be surprised if one wins the U.S. Women’s Amateur -- they both have the game to do it.
3.) But if someone did upset a Jutanugarn atop the rankings, who would it be? Well, I’d put my money on Gabriella Then, a talented player from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who won the Rolex Tournament of Champions this year (beating Ariya Jutanugarn in sudden death and finishing one shot ahead of Moriya in regulation) and advanced to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
4.) Which California girls will shine at the U.S. Girls’ Junior? The top tournament in the country for junior girls heads west this summer to California. The event will be hosted by Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif. Look out for Alison Lee and Gabriella Then, of course, but keep the names Casie Cathrea (recent Oklahoma State commit, read more here) and Hannah O’Sullivan (youngest winner of the California Junior Girls State Championship in history, and a player who qualified for the San Francisco City Amateur in 2010 as an 11-year-old, only to find out she was too young to play) on your radar.
5.) Will more junior players continue to turn professional? First it was Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson, young players who turned professional and immediately found success on the pro level (Korda by finishing runner-up at LPGA Q-School and Thompson by winning two pro events this year). This summer, Ginger Howard, 17, made the jump, winning the second stage of Q-School but failing to earn any LPGA status at the final stage. It’s hard to say if another player will follow the trend in 2012 but who might have the most success? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say my money is on a Jutanugarn.