Notes: Liu looking for winning formula

Jim Liu lets go of his club as he watches his tee shot at No. 9 during the final round of the TPC Junior Players at TPC Sawgrass The Players Stadium.

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It’s been more than two years since Jim Liu won the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur as a 14-year-old, becoming the youngest ever to capture the prestigious tournament.

The monumental victory instantly earned the Smithtown, N.Y., native, comparisons to the person whose record he broke: Tiger Woods. Whether it was because of his maturity, his competitive drive or one of the many impressive aspects of his game, Liu was being hailed as the next big thing in golf.

Two years later and Liu is still regarded as one of the top juniors in the world. He’s ranked No. 1 in the Polo Golf Junior Rankings and is Golfweek’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2013. He’s almost always in contention in every tournament, especially the big ones. And he has handled the pressure and high expectations well.

The only problem is, Liu just hasn't been able to find that winning formula again.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Liu, who hasn’t won since his U.S. Junior victory. “I’m knocking on the door, but I haven’t gotten that win. You just have to continue to give yourself chances to win and keep taking positives every time you play and keep motivating yourself.”

Liu has given himself plenty of chances these past two years, only to come up short.

He was eliminated in match play at the last two U.S. Juniors, including a loss in the final to Andy Shim in July in Stratham, N.H. He was T-6 at the 2012 Junior PGA and 2011 FootJoy Invitational, T-5 three times in 2011, including at the Polo Golf Junior Classic, and T-2 at the past two Puerto Rico Junior Opens.

Last weekend at the Junior Players Championship, Liu was tied for the lead entering the final round. But he turned in a 5-over 77 on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to finish five strokes behind winner Robby Shelton, in third place for the second straight year.

“That wasn’t the way I wanted to finish coming down the stretch,” Liu said.

Now comes taking positives out of what some would call another collapse. But Liu doesn’t look at it that way, and he shouldn’t. He’s still putting together solid rounds despite spending the entire past year undergoing swing changes.

And when one part of his game has been off, another has picked up. His troubles down the stretch at TPC Sawgrass largely can be attributed to his inability to hit the ball well, something that also haunted him in his U.S. Junior loss to Shim, in which he struggled off the tee and finding greens.

But his short game was on – Liu said he worked extensively on that part of his game after a rough putting stretch last month. He chipped in a few times during his first round and handled the tricky Pete Dye greens better than most, even draining a long eagle on No. 16 in the final round.

“Hopefully that’s just the start of improving that part of my game,” said Liu, who has committed to Stanford.

Despite the tough breaks, Liu has remained confident. He knows his game is good enough, and he’s only one solid round from getting another win. It just comes down to avoiding mistakes and getting contributions from every aspect of his game.

“I've just got to put all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Liu said.

He’ll get another chance at ending his winless streak at the Ping Invitational in October. But before that, he’ll play for the United States against Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup later this month at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club's South Course. It will be his second appearance at the event.

“My first Junior Ryder Cup was a lot of fun,” Liu said. “It was probably the most fun that I’ve had playing golf. But I’m going to have to manage my time well. You’re having so much fun, sometimes it’s easy to forget to rest.”

That’s the maturity speaking. That part we’ve come to expect from Liu. His dedication, focus and preparedness have all been constants, even when his swing has been off or he hasn’t putted it well.

And that’s why we’ll soon see Liu get back to his winning ways. He’s already knocking on the door.

SHORT SHOTS: Gavin Hall, the defending Junior Players champion, finished T-19 at 7-over 221. He struggled on the Stadium Course with scores of 79 and 74, but did turn in a 2-under 68 on the Dye’s Valley Course. He was joined at 7 over by several notables, including 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Andy Shim, Max Greyserman and Federico Zucchetti, who shot 4-under 66 during the second round. . . . Arizona State commit Nicolo Galletti finished T-7 at 3-over 214, one shot ahead of buddy Vincent Whaley, a Georgia Tech commit. Whaley caddied for Galletti during this year’s U.S. Junior. . . . Whaley wasn’t the only McKinney, Texas, native to compete at the Junior Players. Brad Dalke finished second at 4-under 210, just a stroke back of winner Robby Shelton. Branson Davis ended up T-52 after opening with an 11-over 83. . . . Doug Ghim led for part of the first round and ended the opening day within striking distance. But Ghim struggled over the next two rounds, ending up T-29 at 9-over 223.

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