Rose Zhang of Irvine, California, won her third AJGA Invitational of 2018 while Michael Thorbjornsen of Wellesley, Massachusetts, won a sudden-death playoff to win the 13th annual PING Invitational at Karsten Creek.
Since 2006, The PING Invitational has been conducted at Karsten Creek with champions including Jordan Spieth, Emiliano Grillo and Alison Lee. With 11 of the top-20 boys and 12 of the top-20 girls in the Rolex AJGA Rankings in the field, the tournament has one of the strongest fields on the 2018 AJGA schedule. Results from the Columbus Day weekend schedule are the final counting events in the AJGA’s 2018 Rolex AJGA Rankings and are used to annually calculate season-ending Rolex Junior All-America teams.
Zhang’s victory adds to her impressive lineup of performances in 2018 including a fifth AJGA trophy.
The high school sophomore won in March at the second annual ANA Junior Inspiration and again in August at the Swinging Skirts AJGA Invitational. The highest-ranked girl in the field, Zhang also collected a runner-up finish at the Girls Junior PGA Championship, an event she won in 2017, and two top-five finishes.
Fierce competition is nothing new for Zhang, but the high winds and rain during the tournament were something she had to fight through for her third AJGA Invitational title of the year.
“The conditions were definitely tough, and I had to keep grinding and playing my game against the other great competitors like Irene [Kim] and Bohyun [Park], but I’m glad how everything turned out and I’m really blessed to have my third Invitational win this year,” Zhang said.
Zhang won by one stroke in her third appearance at Karsten Creek with a 5-over-par 221 over a highly-contested Girls Division field.
Greenwood, Indiana, native Erica Shepherd, first-round leader and 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship victor, finished in a tie for second with Sadie Englemann of Austin, Texas, and Bohyun Park of (South Korea) Farmers Branch, Texas, at 6-over-par 222.
Shepherd, a three-time Rolex Junior All-American and two-time AJGA champion is playing in her sixth season of national junior golf before playing college golf at Duke University. Sixteen-year-old Englemann, a four-time AJGA champion, three-time ACDS Junior All-Star Team member and two-time Rolex Junior All-American won the Buick Shanshan Feng Girls Invitational in February. Park, a two-time AJGA champion, most recently finished third at the AJGA Girls Championship over Labor Day.
Irene Kim of La Palma, California, finished fifth with a 54-hole score of 8-over-par 224. The high school senior, a Northwestern commit, finished runner-up in August at the Swinging Skirts AJGA Invitational.
Thorbjornsen, Cole Ponich of Farmington, Utah, and Alexander Yang of Carlsbad, California, ended in a three-way tie after 54 holes in the Boys Division at 1-over-par 217. Thorbjornsen, a high school junior, finished in the top seven in three of his previous four other AJGA Invitational appearances in the past year.
Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion and first- and second-round leader, had a two-stroke lead going into the final 18 holes but a quadruple-bogey on No. 5 erased his lead in the final round. He birdied the first playoff hole to earn his second national junior golf victory and first AJGA championship.
“This win feels amazing just because this is a stroke-play event all the way through,” Thorbjornsen said. “I haven’t won a stroke-play event of this caliber in a while, and I’m glad I could finally secure two wins in a season.”
Ponich, a BYU verbal commit and Rolex Junior All-American, earned his best finish at an AJGA Invitational and best finish of 2018. He won two events in 2017, including his first AJGA tournament.
Yang fought his way up the leaderboard and shot 2-under-par 70 during the final round, one of four boys scoring under par during the final round. The 2018 AJGA Junior at Yolo Fliers champion birdied seven holes during the final round in his first appearance at The PING Invitational.
Ending in fourth, Ricky Castillo of Yorba Linda, California, was the lone player under par in the first and second rounds. The high school senior ended 2-over-par 218 in his third appearance at Karsten Creek. The University of Florida verbal commit and two-time Rolex Junior All-American won the 2018 PING Heather Farr Classic.
Bo Jin of (China) Encinitas, California, finished fifth at 3-over-par 219. The high school junior and AJGA champion is verbally-committed to Oklahoma State and finished tied for second at The Junior PLAYERS Championship over Labor Day.