GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Fifty-four of the world’s best junior golfers will converge on the stunning Sage Valley Golf Club beginning Thursday for the eighth edition of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
Champions during the tournament’s history include Joaquin Niemann, the former World No. 1 amateur who turned pro this week; Marcus Kinhult, a European Tour member; and Scottie Scheffler, an All-American and senior at Texas.
Who will be the next gold-jacket winner? Here are 5 of the many strong candidates, listed in alphabetical order:
Garrett Barber: The LSU signee from Stuart, Fla., has already showcased an ability to win not only on the big stage but also on difficult courses in tough conditions. Barber, ranked 56th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, won the Jones Cup in February on a demanding Ocean Forest layout in stiff winds. The forecast Thursday-Saturday at Sage Valley calls for windy conditions, as well. Barber also was T-3 here last year and is coming off a T-8 at Terra Cotta.
Matias Honkala: Closed in 68-71 last year to finish T-12 at Sage Valley. The only problem was his opening-round 79. Another year wiser should fix that. The Finland product is ranked 77th in the WAGR, too. A European always seems to find his way near the top of the leaderboard, whether it be Kinhult three years ago or Matthew Fitzpatrick five years ago.
Joe Pagdin: Had it not been for a final-round 79, the Florida commit from England could’ve notched a top-10 at the Terra Cotta last week. He shot a 67 in the first round at Naples National, which also boasts lightning-fast greens. At No. 202 in the WAGR, Pagdin is a nice sleeper pick.
Trent Phillips: The left-handed Georgia signee was T-22 last year at Sage Valley, but also didn’t shoot worse than 74 in any round. If the wind stays up, 74 could be a solid score this week.
Rayhan Thomas: At 13th in the WAGR, the Indian standout is the top-ranked player in the field. He has a wealth of experience playing in pro events, whether on the MENA Tour in Dubai or European Tour. He was also T-13 last year at Sage Valley.