Junior Invitational returns for seventh edition
The Junior Invitational at Sage Valley is frequently touted as the top event in junior golf, each year bringing to Graniteville a field loaded with future college stars and touring professionals.
The seventh edition, which begins Thursday and concludes Saturday, should be no different.
This year’s field of 54 features some of the most accomplished amateur golfers – junior or not – in the world, and they’ll battle it out over 54 holes to determine the next recipient of the tournament’s prestigious gold jacket.
Future Oklahoma State Cowboy Austin Eckroat is back to defend his title, one he won a year ago in dramatic fashion. His 18-foot birdie putt on the tournament’s final hole was set up by a 2-iron from 235 yards, and it gave him the win at 6 under by a stroke over Australian Min Woo Lee.
Lee, the first Australian to win the United State Junior Amateur, is back, as are five other players who finished in the top 10 a year ago: top-ranked Danish amateur John Axelsen; 2015 runner-up and Junior Ryder Cup participant Davis Shore; Junior Ryder Cup member Noah Goodwin, the 13th-ranked amateur in the world; Jones Cup Junior Invitational champion Garrett Barber; and Marcus Svensson, a Swedish participant in the Junior Ryder cup who made the cut at the European Tour’s Nordea Masters.
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann is the highest-ranked amateur in the field – he’s No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – and narrowly missed out on an invitation to the Masters. Niemann made it into a playoff at the Latin America Amateur Championship before falling to best friend and countryman Toto Gana.
Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet, the 2015 LAAC champion and 2016 Masters participant, is back in the field again. So is South Korea’s Won Jun Lee, who’s appearing in a record fifth Junior Invitational.
The local in the field, which includes players from 14 states and 17 other countries, is Inman’s Trent Phillips. The left-hander, a future Georgia Bulldog, is the reigning Palmetto Amateur champion and state junior champion. A junior at Boiling Springs High School, Phillips is also a two-time individual state champion in Class AAAA.
Sage Valley plays 7,437 yards from its championship tees and provides players a challenging layout – one that had to be altered after Nicholas Reach scorched it with a 20-under 196 in the inaugural edition. Winning scores since have ranged between 7-under 209 and 4-under 212.
No one’s been able to run away with the tournament since Reach’s eight-stroke victory in 2011, though Eckroat certainly looked to be on his way last year after an opening 65. Zachary Olsen’s 2012 win came by three shots, and no one’s won by that many since. In fact, the last three Junior Invitationals have been decided by a single stroke.
Tournament play begins Thursday, and it’s preceded by competitor/amateur competition and practice rounds Tuesday and Wednesday. The tournament’s opening ceremony is Tuesday night. Saturday’s final round will be followed by the closing ceremony and trophy presentation.
Tournament patron badges are $5 and may be purchased at the gate upon arrival. Children 12 and under with an adult can attend at no charge. VIP badges are $150 for the weekend and include VIP tent access, breakfast and lunch.