|The Golfweek International Junior Invitational is now in its 18th playing, and the history is piling up. Past champions have begun to chart college and professional careers – in fact, many are deep into those careers. Perhaps most notably, 2011 champion Annie Park recently played on the U.S. Solheim Cup team. Park has one LPGA win under her belt, the 2018 ShopRite LPGA Classic.
More recent champions of the event, typically played in the late fall near Orlando, Florida, include defending champion Nicholas Gabrelcik, who recently was named the FSGA Junior Player of the Year (see more on that below). Ya Chun Chang, winner of the girls division in 2015, is now a sophomore on the University of Arizona team that reached the semifinals of last year’s NCAA Women’s Championship.
In preparation for the Nov. 2-3 event at Omni Resort at ChampionsGate in Orlando, Florida, we offer a few players to watch in each field:
Scotty Kennon, Bandon, Oregon
The 16-year-old Bandon Dunes caddie is in his second year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It’s a uniquely successful formula for Kennon: Spend his summers with full access to the ultimate golf playground then head south for warmer weather during the schoolyear to extend his season. It seems to be paying off. Kennon was runner-up at the Western Junior this summer.
Nicholas Gabrelcik, Trinity, Florida
The defending champion in this event, Gabrelcik is fierce in his own backyard. The high school senior’s 2018 title came after winning the Florida Match Play Championship last summer. This summer, he garnered wins at the Florida Amateur Public Links and the AJGA Junior at Naples, plus finished sixth (and as low amateur) as the third-youngest player in the Florida Open field. For all this, Gabrelcik was named the FSGA Junior Player of the Year.
John Daly II, Clearwater, Florida
“Little John Daly” (as the front of his golf bag reads) has the kind of powerful swing and big personality that turns heads and draws a gallery. He is instantly recognizable to golf fans as the son of the former Tour player. A year ago, the Daly duo finished T-2 at the PNC Father/Son Challenge after having finished T-9 in the event the past two years.
Alex Heck, Greenwood, Indiana
The Midwesterner is set to begin his college career next fall at Valparaiso. Heck has plenty of tournament experience, with this summer’s highlights including a top 5 at the AJGA Junior at Knollwood and a start in the Bubba Conlee Tournament, where he was top 40.
Siyuan Lyu, Lake Mary, Florida
A familiar name in Florida Junior Tour circles here. Lyu won once (at nearby Cypress Creek Golf Club) and finished in the top 10 three more times on the tour over the past year. He opened with 66 in his last two FJT starts. Lyu will be another local favorite at ChampionsGate.
Gianna Clemente, Warren, Ohio
This was the year that 11-year-old Clemente broke out from junior golf and hit the next level. She became the third-youngest player to tee it up in the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August (behind only Lucy Li and Latanna Stone). Some of her biggest titles to date include the 2018 Honda Junior Classic at PGA National and two age-group U.S. Kids World Championships in 2016 and 2018
Annabell Fuller, London
The 17-year-old has the distinction of being the only Curtis Cup team member in the field, having represented Great Britain and Ireland at the 2018 matches. Fuller also played the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in the spring, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in the summer. She might have perhaps the most depth of experience of any player in the field, boy or girl.
Kennedy Noe, Knoxville, Tennessee
Noe enters the Golfweek event after a runner-up finish at the 2A Tennessee State High School Championship. The player nicknamed KA-Bam gets a boost from her length and uses golf to give back through the AJGA’s Leadership Links program. Her chosen cause is the University of Tennessee Medical Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Heart Lung Vascular Institute, which is special to Noe since she was born with a congenital heart defect that required surgery when she was 4.
Allison Paik, Providence, Rhode Island
When Paik isn’t playing golf, the New Englander is playing hockey. Paik, a 17-year-old high school senior, has played high school golf on her school’s boys golf team. She and friend Emily Nash, who began her freshman season at Elon this fall, partnered to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in 2018. Paik also played in the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior as well as the 2017 PGA Junior Girls Championship.
Rebecca Skoler, Needham, Massachusetts
Another prominent New Englander here, as Skoler is a former Massachusetts Girls’ Junior champion. Her larger claim to fame, however, might be the Junior Heritage title she won at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, in February. Skoler has proved her game travels. In addition to her win at Sea Pines, she claimed top-20 finishes at the Harder Hall and the Sally to start the season, two Florida tournaments packed with top college players in addition to juniors and mid-amateurs.
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