ROLEX TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Johnson, Ark. • June 28 - July 2
Two Eagles Position Straka Atop Leaderboard at Rolex Tournament of Champions
JOHNSON, Ark. — Sam Straka of Valdosta, Ga., shot a 3-under-par 69 in Tuesday's first round of the Rolex Tournament of Champions, giving him a one-stroke lead over the remainder of the competition. In the Girls Division, Samantha Wagner of Clermont, Fla., pulled out an even-par 72 to lead after round one at Blessings Golf Club.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the Rolex Tournament of Champions is a 72-hole stroke play event held at Blessings Golf Club. The 132-player field features 72 boys and 60 girls from 28 states, Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, the Phillipines and Thailand. The Boys Division is playing the par-72 course at 7,141 yards and the Girls Division is playing at 6,118 yards.
With an intimidating course looming in the backdrop, Straka kept his composure from the time he teed off on No. 10 until his last putt dropped on No. 9, shooting 2-under-par through the course's very difficult back nine. Through his first six holes Straka remained even before striking gold on No. 16 with an eagle.
“I hit the first six greens in regulation and didn't make a birdie so I was getting kind of frustrated,”
Straka said. “Then on No. 16 I hit a perfect 5-iron in the air. The eagle putt was about 10 feet, and I just center cupped it. It definitely got me started and gave me momentum.”
Straka, who was unable to play in the practice round and was playing Blessings Golf Club for the very first time, would continue the consistent play with a birdie on No. 4 and another eagle to top off his round on No. 9. Although he was plagued by back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 5 and 6, Straka was happy with his overall performance.
“I was hitting it really well off the tees,” Straka said. “I hit my irons pretty good on the front nine. I struggled a little bit on the back, but everything was solid. I got up and down when I needed to. I didn't miss too many putts. Everything was good.”
Currently sitting one stroke behind Straka, tied for second place, are Shun Yat Hak of Lake Mary, Fla., Drew Czuchry of Auburn, Ga., and Shane Lebow of Santa Barbara, Calif., at 2-under-par 70. Rounding out the Boys Division, tied for fifth place with a1-under-par 71, are Anthony Paolucci of Del Mar, Calif., Patrick Rodgers of Avon, Ind., and Nicholas Reach of Moscow, Pa.
Not only is Wagner the youngest player in the tournament field at 13 years old, but the Rolex Tournament of Champions is only her second invitational. Wagner admits that even she was surprised by her first round success.
“Being in the lead at my second invitational, it's really cool,” Wagner said. “It was a surprise because there are a lot of really great golfers out here. I was really happy to pull out with a 72.”
Coming into the Rolex Tournament of Champions, Wagner put a lot of focus on improving her putting game. Her hard work showed, as she hit 10 greens and sank two birdies.
“My putting has been a lot better,” Wagner said. “I was struggling on my putting last week at the Rolex Girls Junior Championship. My dad and I put in a lot of work to improve it. I like these greens, though. I like fast greens. I was just trying to keep it together today.”
Five girls are currently tied in second place, hot on Wagner's trail. Yueer Cindy Feng of Orlando, Fla., Kaira Martin of Paradise Valley, Ariz., Kristen Park of Buena Park, Calif., Sammi Stevens of Hereford, Texas, and Gabriella Then of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., all shot a 1-over-par 73, trailing Wagner by one stroke.
Rolex Watch USA, which is in its third decade of support, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004. Along with sponsoring the Rolex Tournament of Champions, Rolex is also the title partner of the Rolex Girls Junior Championship and the proprietors of the Rolex Junior All-America Teams.
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 provides valuable exposure for college golf scholarships, and has an annual junior membership (boys and girls ages 12-18) of approximately 5,000 junior golfers from 49 states and 30 countries. To ensure scholarship opportunities for all junior golfers who have the skill, the AJGA created the Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant program to provide financial assistance to young players in need.
Titleist, the AJGA's National Sponsor, has been the catalyst and driving force behind the Association's success since 1989. In 2007, after 12 years of support, Polo Ralph Lauren became the AJGA's second Premier Partner.
AJGA alumni have risen to the top of amateur, collegiate and professional golf. Former AJGA juniors have compiled more than 400 victories on the PGA and LPGA Tours. AJGA alumni include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel.
Starting tee times for the second round of the Rolex Tournament of Champions will be at 7 a.m. running off the Nos. 1 and 10 tees at Blessings Golf Club. For more information about the Rolex Tournament of Champions, please contact Tournament Headquarters at 678-617-9917.
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