HP BOYS JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge
July 26-30, 2004
Leong falls short after firing 32 on the back nine
ORLANDO, Fla. – On a day of wild twists and turns at Arnold Palmer’s famed Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Robert Gates, Jr. of Gainesville, Fla., overcame a two-shot deficit heading into the final round of the HP Boys Junior Championship and defeated Ben Leong of Orlando, Fla., on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to capture his first AJGA title.
“The feeling of playing against this field and winning is indescribable,” Gates said immediately after adding his name to a list of champions that includes Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Duval.
The HP Boys Junior Championship, conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, featured 82 boys, ages 12-18, from 24 states, Chile, China and Japan. The 72-hole stroke play event was held at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge, site of the PGA TOUR’s annual Bay Hill Invitational. Highlighting the 2004 field were 14 Rolex Junior All-Americans and 13 2004 AJGA tournament champions. The tournament field was cut to the top 50 players including ties following the second round.
Throughout the day, Gates, Leong and Samuel Saunders of Windermere, Fla., battled the difficult conditions at Bay Hill, providing a thrilling finish to a very closely contested tournament. Gates was steady throughout the day, carding one of only two sub-par rounds recorded Friday with a 1-under-par 71.
“I played great all week,” Gates said. “I made a bunch of pars and finally rolled in some birdie putts at the end.”
It was not easy for Gates to climb to the top of the leaderboard, however. After making birdie on the par-5 16th hole, Gates finally took the lead at even par for the tournament. Meanwhile, Saunders, who led the tournament after each of the first three rounds, missed a short par putt on the 15th hole to drop to 1-over par.
Gates then stood on the 185-yard, par-3 17th with a 5-iron in hand. After hitting his tee shot over the green, Gates faced a seemingly impossible up-and-down as his ball rested against the back lip of a greenside bunker. After taking an awkward stance, Gates was able to flop the ball onto the green, about 12 feet away from the hole.
“It was the best shot I’ve probably ever hit,” Gates said of his bunker shot.
Although Gates admitted he mishit the putt, the ball still found its way into the hole to lock up a dramatic par. Gates would go on to make par on the 18th hole, and then sat and watched as Leong and Saunders played their final hole.
Leong, who struggled on the front nine, roared back into contention by making four birdies in his last nine holes to fire an even-par 72 and lock up a spot in the playoff.
Saunders was not as fortunate however. After missing the short par putt on No. 15, he made par on the last three holes, but had to make birdie on No. 18 to have a shot at the title. Saunders’ 20-foot birdie putt narrowly rolled past the cup, leaving him a one-foot tap in for par. The near miss left him one shot out of the sudden-death playoff.
“I did expect to win,” Saunders said. “But those guys played great today and I just didn’t get it done.”
On the playoff hole, Leong hit his second shot into the water, paving the way for Gates to claim victory with a par.
“It was a great ending to my AJGA career with a second-place finish,” Leong said. “I enjoyed playing in the AJGA over the years and it’s sad to see it end. I credit Robert for his victory today; he played really well.”
This was also Gates’ final individual AJGA event, making the victory even sweeter.
“This is my last individual AJGA event and I’ve been out here so long playing in great tournaments with great fields,” Gates said. “To win my last tournament is just incredible.”
Finishing alone in fourth place was Rory Hie of Lakewood, Calif., with a four-day total of 4-over-par 292. Nicholas Smith of Ocala, Fla., who also fired a 1-under-par 71 Friday, finished in a fifth-place tie with Michael Green of Augusta, Ga., at 5-over-par 293.
Also earning top-ten honors were Bronson Burgoon of The Woodlands, Texas, Peter Uihlein of North Dartmouth, Mass., Seung-Su Han of Bradenton, Fla., Michael Sedacca of Orlando, Fla., and Daniel Woltman of Beaver Dam, Wis.
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 has a membership (boys and girls ages 12-18) of approximately 5,000 junior golfers from 50 states and 30 foreign countries.
For more information about the HP Boys Junior Championship, please contact national headquarters at (770) 868-4200.
Titleist, the AJGA’s National Sponsor, has been the catalyst and driving force behind the Association’s success since 1989. Rolex Watch USA, a supporter of the AJGA since 1983, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004.