Tony Chen, Jenny Kwok rise to the top at Golfweek International Junior

Julie Williams/Golfweek

Tony Chen, Jenny Kwok rise to the top at Golfweek International Junior

Amateur

Tony Chen, Jenny Kwok rise to the top at Golfweek International Junior

By

ORLANDO, Fla. – Lately, Kuangyu (Tony) Chen has viewed his putting as a weakness. In two days at ChampionsGate’s International Course for the Golfweek International Junior, however, Chen didn’t have a single three-putt. That went a long way in helping Chen gain ground on the field. A closing 6-under 66 set up a one-shot victory.

It’s hard work paying off.

“It’s just a good feeling. You just have to keep on doing what you’re good at and hopefully events will turn out good,” said Chen, who has committed to play for the University of California-Berkeley beginning in the fall of 2021 so he can escape some of the Florida heat. He is currently a student at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Chen set up his first birdie of the day, at the par-5 eighth, with a 260-yard 3-wood stuck purely in a strong headwind. It was the only par 5 he reached in two shots. He holed a 25-footer for birdie at No. 12 and he was off and running.

Golfweek International Junior: Leaderboard

Chen’s final four birdies came in a streak from Nos. 15-18. That matches the longest birdie run he’s ever assembled, and for the first time, he did it in a tournament. Every one of those came courtesy of a one-putt.

The 66 caught even Chen off guard, given the difficult of the course and wind that picked up for the final round. Chen finished the weekend at 7 under.

“I wasn’t expecting to go low today, I was more expecting around even par,” Chen said.

Chen, who was born in China but moved to Melbourne, Australia when he was 8 years old, entered the weekend ranked No. 121 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings. On Sunday, he topped defending champion Nick Gabrelcik, ranked No. 59, by a single shot. Gabrelcik’s final-round 69 included three birdies in his final four holes.

Chen works with instructor Robbie Sherwin at IMG, who calls his student a self-aware player. Sherwin tries to set up inner-squad competition as much as possible. That might include a nine-hole putting game of various lengths. You have to make to advance.

“Competition is a great way for them challenge each other,” he said.

Sherwin’s IMG squad includes 11 more players in addition to Chen. He brought all but one of them to ChampionsGate for the Golfweek International Junior. Scotty Kennon, the Bandon, Oregon, native who tied for third individually after a closing 68, was among that crew and so was Annabell Fuller, a London transplant who played in the final girls pairing and finished tied for sixth at even par.

Then there’s Ka Yee (Jenny) Kwok, who held it together on Sunday better than any of the other contenders in the girls division. A 2-under 70 was the best score of the day, and one of only two under-par numbers in the division. At 6 under, Kwok finished one shot ahead of first-round leader Anne Yu.

For Yu, a student at the International Junior Golf Academy in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, playing with the lead was a new experience. Things were going swimmingly through 16 holes. In fact, Yu was 2 under at that point. She shanked a shot on her way to a double bogey at No. 16, but ultimately it was a missed 7-footer for birdie on No. 18 that prevented a playoff. At the time, Yu had no idea how things stood.

“The back nine I was hitting my driver a little bit off,” she said of the difference between the nines.

Kwok calls the Golfweek International Junior her biggest title to date. She’s relatively new to the game, having just gotten serious about it four years ago. Kwok is petite and relies on her short game to give her an advantage (she loves practicing her putting but finds less motivation to work on her chipping). She notes that her idol Michelle Wie may look much different – after all, Wie checks in at 6-1 – but she still admires the way she plays.

“I like her determination,” Kwok said.

Kwok was born in Tianjin, China, which is near Beijing, and only recently moved to Florida to practice at IMG. She is in her second year at the academy.

Back in 2014, when Wie won the U.S. Women’s Open, Kwok and her parents stayed up past midnight to watch Wie finish off the title.

“That kickstarted my career,” she said.

Immediately, Kwok started doing research on how to start learning golf. Before that, she had been mostly focusing on her short game – knowing that’s where she’d have to pick up her shots.

Among the ways that Sherwin, the IMG coach, tries to motivate the students in his group is a constant ladder that ties into the group’s weekly 18-hole round. The ladder hierarchy is constantly changing as each player tries to be the low scorer. Kwok has been near the top for some time now.

On Sunday, Kwok was most proud of herself for the mental fortitude it took to come from behind and never give up.

“I never get affected by who I’m playing with, because I really know that golf is just a one-on-one game, it’s your game. It’s not who you are playing with,” she said.

It’s a realization that came with experience.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home