Junior Invitational: Sage Valley a tougher test

Jonathan Garrick

Jonathan Garrick

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#NameYearStateRating
1Scott Scheffler2014TX67.35
2Zecheng Dou2015CA67.84
3Andy Zhang2016FL68.41
4Austin Connelly2015TX68.5
5Brad Dalke2016OK68.54

GRANITEVILLE, S.C. - There was no 62 Friday in the first round of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. And that’s OK. Tournament officials prefer it that way.

Last year, Nicholas Reach opened with 62, shot 20-under 196 over three rounds and lapped the field, winning by eight. Jonathan Garrick wasn’t here last April but saw the shocking final results. He expects the winning score this year to be far more reasonable, perhaps 4 or 5 under, certainly not double-digits. Check back Sunday.

For the 2012 version, the rough is thicker. The fairways are narrower. The greens are firmer and quicker, the hole locations on smaller shelves. And players walk around this beautiful course muttering to themselves:

Don’t short-side yourself.

Don’t miss above the hole.

Play the angles off the tee.

Yep, the same strategies for playing Augusta National apply here at Sage Valley, too. Alas, some players learned the hard way.

Said Garrick, who shot 76 Friday in his first event since injuring his wrist in February: “Most of us weren’t expecting it to play this hard on the first day.”

Yet to Cody Proveaux, it mattered little. He relishes the chance to play the most prestigious tournaments, at the most esteemed venues, in the most trying conditions, in front of his uber-aggressive peers. “You really want to play well here,” he said.

On Friday, Proveaux, who lives only a half hour away in Leesville, made eight birdies on his way to a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead heading into the weekend. It was his first round of even par or better since February. It was his lowest round since last fall. “Completely surprised,” Proveaux said afterward.

In this era of cookie-cutter swings, Proveaux reminds observers of Kenny Perry with his homemade action: early wrist set, turn behind the ball, swing under the plane. Despite his mounting accolades - AJGA Player of the Year, Junior PGA champion, former No. 1 player in the country - he wasn’t “satisfied with my shotmaking skills.” So for the past several months, he tried to swing more conventionally. Didn’t work. He struggled to break 75, let alone par. He slipped out of the top 10 in the rankings.

But something clicked last week, in Proveaux’s high-school match for Pelion High. He began to work the ball both ways, with that ol' loopy swing. When he striped the ball on the range before Friday’s opening round, “I knew it was looking good,” he said. Proveaux birdied four of the last five holes, each with approach shots inside 5 feet.

“To hit it like I did today,” he said, “it really boosts my confidence.”

Another player with lingering confidence issues is Emil Sogaard, among the group of four players at 68. In recent weeks, the lanky Dane, who will visit the University of Arkansas in the fall, has struggled to perform come tournament-time. “I’m just having issues trusting my swing and hitting shots that I know I can hit on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said.

Making only his 11th trip to the States, Sogaard’s typical visits included stops in Florida during Christmas. Not surprisingly, he welcomes the idea of coming stateside when the weather overseas turns gloomy. On Friday, it was about 50 degrees back home in Denmark. “So this,” he said, “is looking pretty good.”

Also at 68 is Washington commit Jonathan Sanders, who hit perhaps the shot of the day: a 3-wood from 245 yards to set up a 3-foot eagle on No. 4. See, this toughened-up version of Sage Valley still rewards good shots; it still offers chances to post rounds in the 60s.

Only now, said Khaled Attieh (73), “It’s just a really demanding test.”

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