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Kim and Liles take medalist honors


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Even though the winds proved to be quite an obstacle at the University of New Mexico Golf Course, 16-year-old Samuel Kim of Cerritos, Calif., fought nature to shoot a 1-under-par 71 to earn medalist honors in the AJGA Southwestern Junior Qualifier, while Sydney Liles of Phoenix, Ariz., took top honors in the Girls Division with an 82.


Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the AJGA Southwestern Junior will feature 99 players from 16 states, including 18 New Mexico natives. The event, which is being played for the 20th time, is a 54-hole, stroke play tournament that is played at the Isleta Eagle Golf Course and will begin on Wednesday.


Kim will not play in Wednesday’s tournament and will instead utilize the AJGA’s new qualifier opt-out policy. This allows a player to opt out of playing in a tournament they qualify for in exchange for a Tournament Exemption.


“The policy is a lot better now because some people might not want to play the tournament they qualify for,” Kim said. “My high school’s state tournament in California is on the same day, and I can’t miss that.”


Eighty-one juniors battled for 11 Boys Division spots and three Girls Division spots.  Out of the 11 boys that qualified, five are choosing to opt out and take a Tournament Exemption.


Seventeen-year-old Liles started with a difficult first two holes, but was able to turn it around despite tough weather conditions.


“Playing with all that wind was really hard,” she said. “I was never quite sure what club to use.”


Liles double bogeyed her first hole to start the round, but a clutch putt on No. 3 gave her the momentum she needed to play well throughout the round.


“After hitting it way right on the first drive and three-putting, I knew I had to start playing a lot better,” she said. “ I hit a hard and solid putt on No. 3, and that made me feel really good.”


Sixteen-year old Drew Exon of Irvine, Calif., who is among those opting out, tied for second place with John Spehn, 17, of Centennial, Colo., in the Boys Division with scores of 76.


“I had two bogeys starting out on the first two holes, then I birdied No. 14 and realized I could still win despite the rough wind,” Spehn said.


Spehn hit a near albatross on No. 18, which landed in the hole and bounced out about 20 feet.


“My putting is what saved me,” he said. “Because of the wind, I couldn’t hit a lot of greens, so putting was crucial.”


The other qualifiers that will join Spehn and Liles in the tournament are Alex Zannes of Albuquerque, N.M., Michael Haenel Jr. of Paradise Valley, Ariz., Brandon Holub of Higley, Ariz., Justin Spray of Colorado Springs, Colo., Landon Morrow of Lubbock, Texas, Chris Delorey of Colorado Springs, Colo., Derek Meyer of Lake Charles, La., Lee Harris of Fort Morgan, Colo., Chase Anderson of Paradise Valley, Ariz., Kevin Welch of Portales, N.M., Kristin Cocchiarella of Niceville, Fla., and Alexandra Phelps of Albuquerque, N.M.


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 largest association of its kind, the AJGA has a junior membership (boys and girls ages 12-18) of approximately 5,000 junior golfers from 50 states and 30 foreign countries.


Titleist, the AJGA’s National Sponsor, has been the catalyst and driving force behind the Association’s success since 1989. Rolex Watch U.S.A., a supporter of the AJGA since 1983, became an AJGA Premier Partner in 2004.


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 Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Mike Weir, Charles Howell III, Jim Furyk, Vicki Goetz-Ackerman, Grace Park, Cristie Kerr and Beth Bauer.


For more information on the AJGA Southwestern Junior, contact Tournament Headquarters at (505) 869-0950.