FLORIDA NATIVES STAKE BOYS DIVISION LEAD IN COCA-COLA JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP AT BOYNE HIGHLANDS
Na Claims Lead in Girls Division
HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. — Zachary Balit of Bradenton, Fla., and Zachery Sobel of Clearwater Beach, Fla., each shot a 3-under-par 69 at the Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands Wednesday to tie for first place at the completion of the first round. In the Girls Division, Grace Na of Oakland, Calif., carded an even-par 72 to claim the lead at Boyne Highlands Resort — Moor Course.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands is a 54-hole stroke play event being held at the Boyne Highlands Resort — Moor Course. The 144-player field features 102 boys and 42 girls, ages 12-18, from 20 states, Canada, Thailand and South Korea. The Boys Division is playing the par-72 course at 6,850 yards while the Girls Division is playing at 6,104 yards.
Amidst blustery conditions and drizzling rain, Balit and Sobel took command of the Boys Division during the morning wave. Sobel, who carded five birdies en route to his 3-under-par 69 performance, is no stranger to AJGA competition. In the past two weeks, he has recorded a win at the Heritage Junior Championship in Bluffton, S.C., as well as a top-five finish at the First American Title Junior Championship in Tampa, Fla. Due to exceptional execution and consistency, Sobel finished the front nine 4-under-par.
“I hit the ball really well today,” Sobel said. “The highlight of my day was my 20-foot putt on No. 13. That really helped keep my momentum going through the last few holes.”
Also with a 3-under-par 69 was Balit, who began the first round having never seen the course. He played an even-par back nine (his first nine holes of the day due to a two-tee start) and then came alive on the front nine carding a birdie and eagle in two of his final three holes. His eagle came on the difficult par-5 No. 8.
“I hit a three wood to 200 yards out, then a five iron to three feet from the hole and nailed the putt,” Balit said. “That eagle was really what I needed to finish my round and leave me in a good position for the rest of the tournament.”
Behind the Florida natives and sitting alone in third is Blake English of Charlotte, Mich., with a 1-under-par 71. Tied for fourth are Matt Paterini of Saline, Mich., and local junior golfer Joey Garber of Petoskey, Mich., each with an even-par 72.
In the Girls Division, Na, who marks her ball with motivational phrases, recorded two bogeys in her first four holes. It was during her fifth hole that Na began using the encouraging words written on her ball to calm her nerves between shots. On the day, she carded four each of birdies and bogeys in a performance that landed her in the Girls Division lead.
“I just wanted to play shot by shot today,” Na said. “I didn't think ahead or think back and regret anything. I just played each shot as it came to me, and I was able to get a few lucky bounces through the day.”
Sitting two strokes behind Na in second with a 2-over-par 74 is Katie Burnett of Brunswick, Ga. Tied for third in the Girls Division, each having carded a 3-over-par 75, are Nora Lucas of Glenview, Ill., who gained entry into the event through Tuesday's tournament qualifier, and Madison Pressel of Boca Raton, Fla.
The American Junior Golf Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf. The AJGA, the largest Association of its kind, has an annual junior membership (boys and girls ages 12-18) of approximately 5,000 junior golfers from 49 states and 25 foreign countries.
Titleist, the AJGA's National Sponsor, has been the catalyst and driving force behind the Association's success since 1989. Rolex Watch USA, which is in its third decade of AJGA support, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004. In 2007, after 12 years of support, Polo Ralph Lauren became the AJGA's second Premier Partner.
AJGA alumni have risen to the top of amateur, collegiate and professional golf. More than 160 former AJGA juniors currently play on the PGA and LPGA Tours and have compiled more than 300 wins. AJGA alumni include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Cristie Kerr, Pat Hurst, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel and Julieta Granada.
Second-round tee times for Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands run from 7:30 — 9:09 a.m. and 12:30 — 2:09 p.m. off the Nos. 1 and 10 tee at Boyne Highlands Resort — Moor Course Thursday. For more information, please contact Tournament Director Whitney Ross at (770) 861-0519.