Mental errors cost Scheffler, Zhang lead at Sage
GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Scottie Scheffler and Andy Zhang each held at least a share of the lead at one point Thursday at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
But one bad hole by Scheffler and a poor closing stretch by Zhang cost both a chance to have their name atop the leaderboard after the first round.
Scheffler, the top-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, jumped out front early thanks to birdies at Nos. 4, 6 and 9. But a triple-bogey at the par-4 13th – he was left off the tee and four-putted on the green – dropped him out of the lead.
"Made a mental error and I missed it left (off the tee) and (with my third shot into the green) I couldn't keep it on the tier where the pin was," Scheffler said. "Then I made another mental error, hit (the par putt) like 3 feet by. Then I missed that and had 8 feet coming back (and missed that)."
Scheffler, a Texas signee and Dallas native, added a birdie at the par-5 15th to finish at 1-under 71.
Zhang, a native of China but resident of Reunion, Fla., was 4 under through 15 holes and was coming off back-to-back birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 before finishing bogey-bogey-double.
"Basically I just choked," said Zhang, who ended up with an even-par 72.
At the par-3 16th, his tee shot ended up on the back fringe and he needed three putts to finish the hole. At the par-4 17th, he hit his drive right and had to punch out before getting up-and-down for bogey.
Then at the par-4 18th, Zhang found sand off the tee and again with his approach before chunking a pair of bunker shots. He nearly holed a bogey putt from the fringe before tapping in for double bogey.
"That's something that you just have to deal with," Zhang said. "I played 15 holes great. I think that was a great score, but what happened the last three holes you just have to put it behind you."
Scheffler and Zhang did not play in last year's Junior Invitational, although Scheffler did tie for 27th in 2012. Scheffler opted to play his high school state tournament last April while Zhang had committed to play in the European Tour's Volvo China Open before withdrawing after "not feeling great about his game and his body."
That's not the case for either player this week. Other than a few loose drives, Zhang is feeling confident with his game. So is Scheffler, who feels like Sage Valley Golf Club fits his game well.
"I don't hit it too far, which I don't think makes much of a difference out here, but I hit it pretty high," Sheffler said, "and the greens are not too firm, so I'm able to stop it pretty well when I need to."
This event will likely mark the final junior tournament for Scheffler, so he'll have extra motivation to cap his junior career with a victory. Zhang, a member of the Class of 2015, will still be eligible for the Junior Invitational next year, although he also has a little extra motivation this week, as well.
Zhang's father, Qiping Zhang, is at Sage Valley watching his son play for the first time since a 2012 U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Lecanto, Fla.
"This is the first time he's seen me play in a long time," Zhang said. "It's nice to have him here."