Thunderbird International Junior Organizers Receive AJGA's Digger Smith Award

Mike Kennedy and Del Cochran recognized by AJGA for dedication to advancing junior golf

BRASELTON, Ga. – Arizona natives Mike Kennedy and Del Cochran will be honored by the American Junior Golf Association for their dedication to junior golf and more specifically, their efforts with the Thunderbird International Junior. Both co-organizers of the Thunderbird International Junior will be presented with the Digger Smith Award during the tournament’s Welcome Dinner, May 28.

The Digger Smith Award, which has been presented annually since 1991, praises an AJGA advocate for his/her longtime service and dedication to junior golf. Recipients are devoted to the AJGA Mission and Purpose of developing young men and women through competitive junior golf. Award winners not only set a standard for excellence, but they also continue to raise expectations year-in and year-out.

The award is named in honor of current AJGA Chairman of the Board J.R. “Digger” Smith, who has dedicated himself to the AJGA and junior golf for more than three decades.

Kennedy and Cochran have been organizing the AJGA’s Thunderbird International Junior since its inception in 2000. By providing opportunities for American and international players, financial assistance and full housing accommodations to participants, as well as meals each day for family members and guests, the Thunderbird International Junior is one of the most welcoming tournaments on the AJGA’s 85-tournament schedule.

"With Mike Kennedy and Del Cochran at the helm, the Thunderbird International Junior provides the ultimate junior golf experience,” said Executive Director Stephen Hamblin. “With Grayhawk Golf Club as the perfect host, and with hospitality never before seen at the junior golf level, Mike and Del have raised the bar to a height that other tournaments strive to reach. The fact that they have been volunteering their time for more than a decade is a testament to their dedication to junior golf."

As tournament chairman for the AJGA’s Thunderbird International Junior, Kennedy has developed the tournament into a staple event on the AJGA’s schedule. Mike has worked hard to create an event that not only focuses on golf, but on the juniors and families that participate. By setting an atmosphere conducive to the best competition, sportsmanship and all-around fun, the Thunderbird International Junior has received many honors and much recognition throughout its time on the AJGA schedule.

"In 1999, Phil Mickelson challenged The Thunderbirds to create an event for the most competitive junior golfers in the world,” Kennedy said. “By assembling an all-star cast led by the AJGA, Grayhawk, Callaway and the Phil & Amy Mickelson Foundation, we have been able to answer Phil's challenge with 10 years of innovation, success, intense competition and friendships with the Thunderbird International Junior."
Cochran, Captain of Grayhawk Golf Club, has been responsible for much of the behind-the-scenes work. Grayhawk Golf Club has played host to the tournament each year and has provided a top-notch venue on which juniors may test their skills. Not only is the course in pristine condition, juniors are provided their own locker, personalized with their name and photo.

“The Thunderbird International Junior tournament is one of our favorite events and it is a pleasure for me, as well as our Grayhawk staff,” Cochran said. “We want to thank the AJGA for presenting us with this prestigious honor.”

The Thunderbird International Junior has an impressive list of champions who have gone on to become successful in golf. LPGA star Morgan Pressel won this event in 2005 while PGA TOUR champion Ryan Moore won the Boys Division in 2001.

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. Rolex Watch USA, which is in its third decade of AJGA support, became the inaugural AJGA Premier Partner in 2004. 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.

For information regarding the Digger Smith Award or the 2010 Thunderbird International Junior, please contact
Kristi Bradley ( ) in the AJGA Communications Department at (678) 425-1790.