VONGVANIJ, KIMBERLY KIM LEAD THUNDERBIRD INTERNATIONAL JUNIOR
Vongvanij, 66, and Kim, 67, set a torrid pace during round one in Boys' and Girls' Divisions
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Arnond Vongvanij of Bradenton, Fla., posted a 6-under-par 66 during the first round of the eighth annual Thunderbird International Junior Saturday to lead the Boys Division by one stroke. Reigning U.S. Women's Amateur Champion Kimberly Kim of Pahoa, Hawaii, shot her personal best on Grayhawk Golf Club's Raptor Course when she recorded a bogey-free 5-under-par 67.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the Thunderbird International Junior is being held on the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club. The Boys Division is playing the par-72 course at 7,113 yards, while the Girls Division is set up at 6,271 yards. The 78-player tournament field consists of 42 boys and 36 girls, ages 14-18, from 18 states, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, England, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and United Kingdom.
The Thunderbird International Junior annually attracts the top junior golfers in the world. This year, 52 Rolex Junior All-Americans help make up the field. Past champions of the event include LPGA Tour players Virada Nirapathpongporn, Brittany Lang and Morgan Pressel and PGA TOUR player Ryan Moore.
Starting on No. 10, first-team Rolex Junior All-American Vongvanij canned a 40-foot par putt on his opening hole, giving him the confidence he needed to score well, he said. After making back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12, he finished his opening nine with six consecutive pars to go out in 2-under-par 34. He only got better on his way in, carding three birdies in a row on Nos. 2-4 and an eagle on the 502-yard, par-5 seventh to go 7-under-par on the day with two holes to play.
While he flirted with the tournament 18-hole scoring record — 7-under-par 65 — his lone blemish came on his final hole, the 464-yard, par-4 ninth, when he missed a 4-foot par putt to post a 66.
“I putted really well today,” he said after recording only 23 putts over 18 holes. “I stayed focused on every shot and it turned out to be my day.”
Vongvanij's 32-34—66 leads Sergio Franky of Bogota, Colombia, by one stroke after he recorded a 5-under-par 67. Richard Lee of Chandler, Ariz., Bud Cauley of Jacksonville, Fla., Sihwan Kim of Buena Park Calif., and Scott Langley of St. Louis all shot 3-under-par 69s to round out the Boys Division top five.
Although Kim, a second-team Rolex Junior All-American, recorded five birdies, it was her pars on Nos. 9 and 18 that kept her round in tact, she said. She made a sweeping left-to-right 60-foot par putt on No. 9, this after taking unplayable relief as a result of a poor drive. On the par-5 18th, she hit her second shot, a 3-wood, behind the live scoring leaderboard. After taking a free drop, she hit her third into a back bunker, only to get up-and-down for another scrambling par.
“I'm lucky because if you have a bad day on this course, it's really bad,” Kim said. “Even if you are having a good day, a little mistake can make things bad really quick.”
Kim's 34-33—67 leads the Girls Division by three strokes after Vicky Hurst of Melbourne, Fla., and Ayaka Kaneko of Honolulu posted 2-under-par 70s.
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 Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Cristie Kerr, Pat Hurst, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel and Julieta Granada.
Second-round tee times will run from 7:15-9:03 a.m. off the Nos. 1 and 10 tees of the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club. For more information on the Thunderbird International Junior, please contact tournament headquarters at (480) 502-3181.