Fort Wayne (incnow.tv)- Andrea Lee shot a 5-under-par 67 and holds a one-stroke lead following Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the par-72 Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
The 14-year-old from Hermosa Beach, Calif., returned a flawless round of five birdies, four from tap-in distance, on the 6,312-yard Jack Nicklaus design. Lee sits one stroke ahead of Kathleen Scavo and Lilia Khatu Vu, both at 4-under 68. Nicole Morales, who reached the third round of the 2012 Girls’ Junior, and 2013 Women’s Open competitor Yueer Feng are among a group of seven players at 3-under 69, two strokes behind Lee.
The 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship is open to female amateur golfers under the age of 18. It consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Saturday.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Lee came to Fort Wayne to compete in her first Girls' Junior. But while she may be new to the event, she is certainly familiar with the venue, as Sycamore Hills has served as host for the past three Junior PGA Championships.
“You need to think a lot (about the course). It’s pretty tough,” said Lee, whose previous low round at Sycamore Hills was a 71 in 2012. “I just tried to play one shot at a time.”
Lee’s deliberate thinking certainly paid off. She opened with a bang, carding birdies on the opening three holes. A steady pace – and a lighthearted attitude – carried her through the remainder of the morning.
“I felt really comfortable,” said Lee. “I wasn't even thinking about the score. I was just having fun with my caddie.”
Today’s round was yet another highlight in Lee’s summer. Two weeks ago, she finished second at the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions, and just last week, her 4-0 record helped propel the West Team to victory at the Wyndham Cup, an elite team competition for juniors.
“(Today gave me) a lot of confidence going into tomorrow and the rest of the week,” said Lee, who is ranked 86th in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WWAGR). “Playing like I did today is what I want to do.”
Like Lee, Vu went undefeated for the West at last week’s Wyndham Cup, returning a 3-0-1 record. But unlike Lee, the 15-year-old from Fountain Valley, Calif., made the trip to Fort Wayne without previous experience at Sycamore Hills. Vu’s five birdies to only one bogey belied her lack of course knowledge.
“My first birdie got me started and I just tried hitting it close and [making pars],” said Vu, who is competing in her third Girls’ Junior. “If not, maybe I’ll get lucky and get a birdie.”
Scavo had a wobbly opener, bogeying the par-4 10th (her first hole of the day). But the 15-year-old from Benicia, Calif., was able to regain her composure and move ahead. Four birdies over the next 17 holes brought into a tie for second at her second Girls’ Junior.
“It means a lot to me to play with the best competition in the world,” said Scavo, yet another member of the Wyndham Cup’s victorious West Team. “It really shows me where my game is and how all my hard work has paid off. It’s great to play in a wonderful championship like this.”
This championship marks Scavo’s first visit to Sycamore Hills, which also hosted the 2009 USGA Women’s State Team Championship. To say that she found the course to her liking is an understatement.
“(The course) fits my eye and my game well, and I just really like the layout of this course,” said Scavo. “I feel like I played all the holes to the best of my ability.”
Morales, a native of South Salem, N.Y., looked to her Junior PGA experiences to bolster her championship efforts, but for far different reasons that most of her competitors. After numerous flight delays, an unforeseen overnight stay in Atlanta and a set of golf clubs that arrived in Fort Wayne after she did, Morales was unable to practice at Sycamore Hills prior to her Monday-morning tee time.
“I feel like I was very patient with myself all day,” said Morales, who will attend the University of Alabama in the fall. “I gave myself a lot of opportunities.”
Morales had to get up and down just to save par on the par-4 first hole. With that opening scare behind her, the 17-year-old, competing in her fifth and final Girls’ Junior, converted birdies on the ensuing two holes and cruised from there.
“I felt really confident, which is exactly the opposite of what I felt like going into this week,” said Morales, winner of the 2013 Thunderbird International Junior and No. 12 in the WWAGR. “This is my last U.S. Girls’ Junior, so I’m going to try and go for big.”
Reigning Girls’ Junior champion Minjee Lee began her title defense with a solid 1-under 71. Casie Cathrea, who earned low-amateur honors at last month’s U.S. Women’s Open, carded an even-par 72, as did fellow Women’s Open participant Gabriella Then. Kelli Murphy, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 Girls’ Junior, struggled to an 8-over 80.
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