FRANCIS WINS SECOND AJGA TITLE, FIRST INVITATIONAL
Lendl overcomes two-shot deficit to win Girls Division
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. â€” Philip Francis of Scottsdale, Ariz., carded a final round 7-under-par 65 to win the Thunderbird International Junior by two strokes. In the Girls Division, Isabelle Lendl of Bradenton, Fla., took top honors with a tournament total of 1-under-par 215.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the seventh annual Thunderbird International Junior was held at Grayhawk Golf Club on the Raptor Course. The par-72 course was set up at 7,113 yards for the Boys Division and 6,271 for the Girls. The tournament field consisted of 48 boys and 36 girls, ages 12-18, from 16 states, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, Sweden and Taiwan.
Francis entered Monday's final round sitting in sixth place, trailing by three strokes. After an even-par start on holes one through four, the 2007 graduate turned up the heat on the competition, playing the next five holes at 5-under-par.
â€śPlaying with Arnond (Vongvanij) and Jamie (Lovemark) really took my game to the next level,â€ť Francis said. â€śArnond beat me in match play at the U.S. Boys Junior, so I guess this was a little revenge to beat him here.â€ť
Francis continued his solid play down the stretch, securing his victory with a birdie on No. 18.
â€śThis event has one of the best, if not the best field in junior golf,â€ť Francis said. â€śIt feels really great to win this event. I prepared a lot over the past couple of years and it's really starting to show.â€ť
Francis' win this week marked the second AJGA victory of his career; his first came at the Heather Farr Classic in April.
Vongvanij of Bradenton, Fla., and Tim McKenney of Scottsdale, Ariz., carded matching tournament totals of 208, tying for second. First and second-round leader Rory Hie of Lakewood, Calif., placed fourth while second-round co-leader Richard Lee of Chandler, Ariz., finished fifth.
Coming off a big win at the recent Scott Robertson Memorial Tournament, Lendl entered the week feeling confident. â€śIt was great winning last week because it gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week,â€ť Lendl said. â€śWinning the Thunderbird (International Junior) is definitely the biggest win of my career.â€ť
Lendl got hot on the back with birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 to pull into a tie with second-round leader Esther Choe of Scottsdale, Ariz. Lendl, 14, arrived at No. 18 with a 1-shot lead and knew she had to at least make par to win or force a playoff.
â€śI minded my own game all day long and that's just what I did on No. 18,â€ť Lendl remarked. â€śWhen Esther missed her birdie putt, I knew I just had to make par to win.â€ť
That is exactly what the 2009 graduate did. Monday's victory marked the second career AJGA win for Lendl, who also won the 2005 Greater Hartford Jaycees Junior presented by St. Paul Travelers.
Choe finished in second place with an even-par tournament total of 216. Stephanie Kono of Honolulu rounded out the top three with rounds of 70-74-74â€”218.
The Thunderbird International Junior annually attracts the top junior golfers in the world with 52 Rolex Junior All-Americans present this year. Past champions of the event include Virada Nirapathpongporn, Ryan Moore, Casey Wittenberg, Brittany Lang, Rob Grube and Morgan Pressel.
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 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 enters its third decade of support, became the inaugural 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, Dottie Pepper, Grace Park, Cristie Kerr and Beth Bauer.
For more information on the Thunderbird International Junior, please contact the AJGA National Headquarters at (877) 373-2542.