Sage Valley: Horsfield takes lead; Fitzpatrick in contention
GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – The lesson of the afternoon Friday at Sage Valley came courtesy of a slender Englishman. An unassuming Matthew Fitzpatrick had the first-round lead at the Junior Invitational for most of the afternoon, until going 4 over on the final two holes.
He went into the scoring tent smiling and he came out smiling, and then he spoke casually of the chunked chip and four ensuing putts that sent him from 4 under on the day to 1 under.
PHOTOS: Round 1 at Junior Invitational
Check out images from the first round of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
“Into the grain is not my forte,” said Fitzpatrick, an 18-year-old Northwestern commit from Yorkshire, England.
Fitzpatrick is No. 12 in the World Amateur Rankings and the player with perhaps the best chance at a (GB&I) Walker Cup bid of anyone in the field. He had five birdies plus an eagle at the par-4 13th, and had gotten it to 5 under by the time he stepped up to the 17th tee. Bogey there left Fitzgerald comfortably in the lead before his triple-bogey finish inflated his score to 1-under 71. Still, Fitzpatrick, the reigning British Boys champion, didn’t lose so much ground that he can’t make it up. He is three shots behind solo leader Sam Horsfield
“I hit it great off the tee,” Fitzpatrick said of the day. “. . . Playing smart, hitting it to the right areas.”
England was a common theme Friday, even if Horsfield didn’t sound much like his compatriot Fitzpatrick. Horsfield is a 16-year-old Manchester, England, transplant who used birdies at Nos. 15 and 17 to get to 4-under 68 and overtake Fitzpatrick late in the day. The Horsfields found their way to Central Florida 12 years ago, and Sam’s parents own a glass company that specializes in windows and doors. The move has been good for Horsfield’s golf game for many reasons.
Horsfield, who plays mostly local junior events around Orlando, Fla., calls the Junior Invitational the deepest field he’s entered. But Horsfield is best known for once beating Ian Poulter, 1 up, in a nine-hole match at Lake Nona Golf Club. Horsfield played only one tee in front of Poulter, and the two still keep in touch. Horsfield got to know Poulter because of his friendship with Poulter’s caddie.
“I don’t like to bother him,” Horsfield said when asked if Poulter had any specific advice for Sage Valley. Horsfield wore an Ian Poulter logoed shirt around the course Friday.
Horsfield has only one shot on Rico Hoey, the reigning Callaway Junior World champion from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Hoey closed strongly with birdies at Nos. 15 and 17. Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola is one shot back at 2-under 70.
All three of those players escaped the par-3 second hole in a collective 1-under par as the field averaged 3.93 there. Carnage at that downhill, watery par 3 was the story of the morning as a strong wind blew right in players’ faces on the tee.
Kristoffer Ventura from Oslo, Norway, was among the four players in the field to make a quadruple bogey there. Ventura then went 7 under in an eight-hole stretch beginning at No. 8 and salvaged a 1-under 71. That put Ventura in a tie for fourth with Greyson Sigg of Augusta, Ga., and Corey Pereira of Cameron Park, Calif.
The other story Friday centered around Sage Valley’s slick greens – slick enough to drive defending champion Zach Olsen’s score to 78. Top-ranked junior Robby Shelton shot 2-over 74.
Said Sigg, the local man at Sage Valley this week: “I thought there were a lot of pins out there tucked in some spots I’ve never seen before.”
There’s a lot more real estate around these putting surfaces to keep Sigg and his competitors guessing.