Tardy, Garza prevail at Golfweek Junior Invitational

Bailey Tardy, left, and Luis Garza won the Golfweek Junior Invitational at Shingle Creek.

Boys results

Girls results

ORLANDO, Fla. – Not much has changed in the nearly four months since Bailey Tardy was medalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Tardy joined an elite group that day in July – that of stroke-play winner in a U.S. Golf Association championship – but the only tangible difference she notices is a little bit of improved confidence.

Confidence, however, breeds success.

Tardy won the Golfweek Junior Invitational on Nov. 3 by two shots. Her first-round 3-under 69 at Shingle Creek gave her a three-shot cushion entering the final round. An even-par 72 on Sunday left her at 3-under 141, and with a two-shot victory over Dylan Kim of Winter Garden, Fla.

It’s been a year of gradual milestones for Tardy, who also earned AJGA Rolex All-America honors for the first time in her career. Tardy, 17, has many more goals to meet, however. She lists them confidently, with a steady and determined voice.

Qualify for a U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team. Advance farther at the U.S. Girls’ Junior (Tardy fell in the second round of match play). Play in every AJGA invitational in 2014.

The success so far has been enjoyable, but Tardy only thinks of it sparingly.

“It was definitely a big confidence boost knowing I played with the top girls in the world and I was medalist,” she said.

Tardy birdied two of her first three holes Sunday to expand her lead. She battled windy conditions but kept the ball in play.

Consider it a weight off Tardy’s shoulders that she has already committed to play for Georgia in the fall of 2015.

The Norcross, Ga., native played in black shirt and red skirt on Sunday, and there’s also a strong Bulldog red presence on her golf bag. These days, she takes lessons from Chan Reeves at Atlanta Athletic Club (the most focus is on short game, specifically lining up correctly on the putting green) and practices there, too.

Emilie Burger, who graduated from Georgia as an All-American in 2013 and now is pursuing a career on the LPGA tour, recently began practicing there, too. Tardy says that new friendship has played a big role in her growth as a player.

“We play the par 3 at our course really about every day,” Tardy said.

Tardy, a tall, athletic player with long blonde hair, could be the next coming of Burger. Until then, however, Tardy has her own goals to meet.

• • •

As a steady rain plagued the first round of the Golfweek Junior Invitational, Luis Garza buttoned up his rain gear and returned a 2-under 70 at Shingle Creek. It left him tied for the lead after a long, sloppy day.

“It wasn’t my first time playing in the rain,” Garza said simply. His final-round 68 on Sunday moved him to 6-under 138, three shots ahead of runner-up Matthew Lowe of Farmingdale, N.Y.

The key to Garza’s game is in his head. His ability to shrug off miserable conditions and post a score was on display at Shingle Creek. It’s the best lesson he’s learned at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy in nearby Howey-in-the Hills, Fla. Garza, from Leon, Mexico, has been a student since 2011.

Asked how much his game has grown in that time, Garza had just one word.

“Amazing.”

Garza found his way to the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy courtesy of his spot on the Mexican National Team. The team practiced there at the academy during the winter, and eventually Garza just stayed. His ultimate goal is to play college golf in the U.S. – he names Oklahoma, Arkansas and Florida as dream schools – then move on to a professional career. Garza played the Junior Americas Cup (33rd) with the national team this summer and also played the Toyota Junior World Cup (T-41).

On Sunday, he was part of a large Gilchrist contingent, all dressed in cobalt-blue polos. There were 10 players all told, plus Karen Arimoto, who was unable to play because of an injury. Arimoto followed Garza around for moral support. Garza hardly needed it, but it was appreciated all the same.

“I was feeling confident with my game, I was hitting the ball really good,” Garza said. “I just wanted to trust my decisions, go hole by hole and just play my round.”

It’s what separated him from the pack at Shingle Creek.

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