Fifty four junior boys and girls, all ranked nationally, competed Dec. 20-21 in the PING Southern Arizona Invitational Junior Championships at Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson.
The tournament was the first event of the 2015 season for the PING Junior Players Series.
“The top 1,500 girls and 2,500 boys nationally ranked through Junior Golf Scoreboard were eligible to play,” said Joe Hobby, Junior Golf Director for the Southwest Section PGA. The players earned points nationally through the event, with strength of field and where they place determining the points earned.
“We try to get the highest strength of field possible to give them the opportunity to earn their way up the rankings list,” Hobby said.
The level of play showed why these top juniors are nationally ranked, with winners Monet Flores and Trevor Werbylo both shooting under par over the two days of competition.
Litchfield Park’s Flores got the wire-to-wire win, firing a 2-under-par, 70 on day one and following that up with an even-par round of 72 to win by five shots.
“I was consistent both days,” the 16-year old Flores said. “My game has improved a lot – this last year was kind of a struggle for me.”
“But my new coach is Kene Bensel and we’ve been working really hard lately, so I guess it paid off. This proves the new swing is working well.”
The Bensel connection also applied to Flores’s two playing partners, as Tucson’s Natassja Meredith and Taylor Hughes are coached by Kene’s son, Ken.
Meredith, 17, shot 72 in the first round, but struggled a little on day two, shooting 79 to finish nine shots back.
“I had some rough holes on the back,” she said.
Hughes, a 16-year-old junior at Sahuaro High School, also shot 72 on Saturday – but fought the putter on day two.
“The putter was just not there, nothing would drop,” she said. “It got to a point where just nothing looked like I could make it.”
“It was definitely a struggle, but I still feel like I learned from it. I just need to go home and putt.”
Las Vegas product Hunter Pate followed her opening round 74 with a 73 to finish second at 3-over-par, 147. Alisa Snyder had the best round on Sunday with a 2-under-par, 70 to finish fourth at 150, while Sarah Lawrence was third with a two-day total of 149.
On the boys’ side, Tucson’s Trevor Werbylo made up a two-shot deficit with a hot front nine at Sewailo, making four birdies to take a three-shot lead into the back nine.
He held on to shoot 3-under-par, 69 and his two-day total of 141 was good enough for a six-shot win.
“I hit the ball really well today, put shots close to the hole and had a lot more birdie opportunities,” the Salpointe Catholic junior said. His win comes on the heels of a second-place finish at the AIA state tournament in the fall.
“This is the best I’ve ever played in a tournament so it’s definitely encouraging to see.”
Werbylo overtook first round leader Mason Andersen, who was 2-under on Saturday, but finished with a 79 on Sunday to finish third at 149.
It was an all-around tough day Sunday for Andersen, who plays for Basha High School in Chandler.
“I didn’t make any putts, didn’t hit any greens and missed a lot of fairways,” he said. “I scrambled real well yesterday, but didn’t like I should have today.”
Kenyon Kautz, who fired a 74 on day one to be third, also came in with a 79 on Sunday. The putter was the problem for the Ironwood Ridge golfer, who had five three putts on Sunday.
“I was hitting a lot of greens, but they weren’t as close as yesterday,” he said. “I just couldn’t make any putts and that was the difference.”
Jack Snyder had the second best round of the day Sunday with an even-par 72, and snuck into second with a two-day total of 147.
By Kevin Duke
Associate Editor – Golf Arizona