Players to watch in U.S. Junior Amateur, U.S. Girls’ junior

Lucy Li watches her tee shot on the 13th hole during the second round of the LPGA Tour ANA Inspiration golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club, Friday, March 31, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) Golfweek File

Players to watch in U.S. Junior Amateur, U.S. Girls’ junior

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Players to watch in U.S. Junior Amateur, U.S. Girls’ junior

The U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior begin Monday on opposite sides of the country.

The boys will take on Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. while the girls challenge Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. This will be the second year that the boys winner earns a spot in the following year’s U.S. Open, and the girls champion garners a U.S. Women’s Open spot.

Noah Goodwin is not back to defend his U.S. Junior Amateur title, which leaves this contest even more wide open. Erica Shepherd is in the field at the U.S. Girls’ Junior as she looks to go back-to-back.

Who are some names to look out for in two of the highest-profile junior events in golf? We offer a few suggestions.

U.S. Junior Amateur

Ricky Castillo – The 2019 Florida commit, of Yorba Linda, Calif., has quietly risen to No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. He’s won two junior events this year and was a contender at the prestigious Junior Invitational at Sage Valley (where he finished T-3). Castillo made match play at last year’s U.S. Amateur (Round of 32) and U.S. Junior Amateur (Round of 16).

Akshay Bhatia – Like Castillo, he’s from California. Bhatia now lives in North Carolina, though, and has dominated. Last month, he stormed to an incredible 10-shot victory at the Polo Golf Junior Classic. That was only months after winning Sage Valley. He also won the Boys Junior PGA last summer. Nobody has risen swifter in the last year. The 2020 prospect could forgo college altogether. First, he looks for a deep run in a U.S. Junior.

Karl Vilips – Bhatia is the only player ranked higher in the Class of 2020 than Vilips. The Aussie has been turning heads for years with his ability and while this is his maiden U.S. Junior, he’s already competed in two U.S. Amateurs. The Stanford commit has five AJGA wins and his last four junior starts have gone as such: 3, WIN, 2, 12.

U.S. Girls’ Junior

Lucy Li (above) – She first burst onto the scene when she qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at age 11. The 2020 prospect, of Redwood Shores, Calif., is Golfweek’s top-ranked girls junior and with good reason. Li won a pair of prestigious AJGA events last fall and continues to contend in pretty much any junior event she’s a part of. She also returned to the U.S. Women’s Open this year and placed T-55.

Erica Shepherd – You may recall the concession controversy and Shepherd blitzing past it to win this event last year. It’s her last victory to date, but the 2019 Duke commit remains one of junior golf’s top players. She’s since made match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and a cut in an LPGA event. She’s finished fifth and second in her last two starts (both prestigious junior events). The lefty once again enters on strong form.

Avery Zweig – The 11-year-old is the youngest qualifier and competitor in the history of this event. It’s not her first USGA start either, as she made it to the Round of 32 earlier this year at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. The McKinney, Texas, product certainly has prodigious talents, and she’s helped raise roughly $250,000 to fight pediatric cancer. She’s not even a teenager yet! This week will be a big test. Gwk

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