Junior Notebook: Dalke makes AJGA history

Brad Dalke during the Golfweek East Coast Junior Invitational at Reunion Resort.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Andrea Lee2016CA68.29
2Kristen Gillman2016TX68.48
3Angel Yin2017CA69.67
4Mariel Galdiano2016HI70.37
5Clare Amelia Legaspi2016CA70.55

Boys Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Andy Zhang2016FL68.41
2Brad Dalke2016OK68.7
3David Snyder2016TX69.62
4Cheng Jin2016Intl69.82
5Robin Wang2017FL70.35

Take a look at the list of past champions at any AJGA invitational. Odds are, many of them now enjoy a comfortable spot on the PGA Tour money list.

But even with the impressive number of child prodigies and academy standouts on those past champion lists, history was made this week at the Thunderbird International Junior, as Brad Dalke, 13, became the youngest AJGA invitational winner and the third-youngest winner in AJGA history. With a gutsy up-and-down for par on the final hole May 31, Dalke defeated Billy Kennerly and Jake Higginbottom by one shot at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

If Dalke’s name sounds familiar, here’s why: Last August, he made the college and junior golf worlds take a collective gasp when he gave a verbal commitment to Oklahoma at age 12. While opinions on the situation were understandably polarizing, Dalke’s family history made his decision to attend OU a foregone conclusion by the time he was old enough to point out Norman on a map. And after his biggest victory to date, he’s anything but regretting the commitment.

“There were some people who congratulated me and there were also some people criticizing me and OU, saying that they should never let a kid commit that early,” Dalke said. “But it’s been fun to get the college decision out of the way. My parents went there, my grandparents went there; it’s the only place I’ve ever wanted to go.”

Dalke, who will begin eighth grade at Spring Creek Academy in Plano, Texas, in the fall, said the early commitment has taken a great deal of pressure off his golf game, and this week’s win only helped that cause.

“It’s nice to not have to worry about going out and impressing college coaches,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have to perform well at every tournament.

“I knew that if I didn’t perform over the next few years that people would be asking questions about when I would start performing. But this is the reason that Coach (Ryan) Hybl wanted to commit me. If they didn’t feel like I would continue to get better and better, they wouldn’t have done it.”

Now up to No. 8 in the Polo Golf Rankings, Dalke is basically free to pick his AJGA schedule for the rest of the season. He will play next week at the Signsational Signs Junior at The Woodlands and then the following week it’s off to Sedgefield CC in Greensboro, N.C., for the FootJoy Invitational, where the winner will be rewarded with a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. He also plans to play the AJGA Cup and a few Texas Legends Tour events.

Confidence and reduced pressure weren’t the only things that led to Dalke’s victory in Scottsdale. He also says his putting and wedge game have “improved drastically” over the past three months.

“I’ve been working so hard lately getting prepared for (the Thunderbird) and the FootJoy Invitational,” Dalke said. “I feel like my hard work has really paid off, and I’m happy to see how well I can play with some good practice.”

– D.J. Piehowski

• • •

Back on course: When Karen Chung accepted the cactus-shaped trophy for winning the AJGA’s Thunderbird International Junior, she suddenly felt very old. Standing beside 13-year-old Brad Dalke, the petite Chung felt deceptively hardened by a rigorous tournament schedule, and one that put the 16-year-old on the map nearly three years ago when she lost to Alexis Thompson in the final round of the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

Told Dalke already had committed to Oklahoma, Chung was further stunned. She won’t even begin the college selection process until September. Until then, it’s just golf, like it has been since becoming one of the top junior golfers in the country three years ago – when she was in Dalke’s position.

“My game hasn’t been there the last few years,” Chung explained. “I’ve been doing the same thing, just been practicing a little harder.”

Chung, of Livingston, N.J., has spent much of the past three years trying to improve her length off the tee because “I was really short in 2008.” She now averages 250 yards with her driver.

While Chung’s game wasn’t firing as she would have liked recently, she hasn’t been completely winless. She claimed the title at the AJGA Girls’ Championship each of the past two years, but was eliminated in the first round of last year’s Girls’ Junior. Chung will enter this year’s tournament with her last exemption from her runner-up finish in ’08, and that means one thing: “I gotta play well.”

Chung calls the Thunderbird win her biggest accomplishment in the past few years. It’s her first invitational win, and she said she can feel her game trending upward.

“I tried qualifying for the Women’s Open right before I left for the Thunderbird and actually missed it,” she explained, “but played really well there so it kind of gave me confidence going into Thunderbird.”

There is more downtime in the cards this summer for Chung because she’ll skip the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in Bandon Dunes, Ore. Her next stop? The Rolex Girls’ Junior to be played at Sommerby Golf Club in Byron, Minn., in two weeks.

So much for taking it easy.

– Julie Williams

• • •

Short Shots: Nicholas Reach of Moscow, Pa., is competing in the Nationwide Tour’s Melwood Prince George’s County Open this week – a perk of his win at April’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. Reach, who won the inaugural event by eight shots over Stanford signee Patrick Rodgers, shot 1-over 72 in the first round of his Nationwide debut. ... As sectional qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open winds down at sites around the country, six players in the top 21 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings have punched their tickets. Those players include Thai sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn – ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively – Mariah Stackhouse, Erynne Lee, Gabriella Then and reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Doris Chen. ... The International Junior Golf Tour held it’s season-ending Tournament of Champions on May 29-30 as Kazuki Higa claimed the boys championship and Laura Restrepo was the girls champion. The Future Collegians World Tour also closed its season May 30 as Zach Foushee won the boys title and Monifa Sealy won the girls division.

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