Every Memorial Day weekend 2000-2019, the world’s best junior golfers gathered at Grayhawk Golf Club to compete in the Thunderbird International Junior – an event that grew into one of the most prestigious tournaments on the AJGA calendar.
Given the AJGA’s history as an incubator of talent, it only seems fitting that its most notable alumni was the driving force behind the success. Phil Mickelson played AJGA golf from 1985-1989 – posting 12 victories in 26 events – the most individual career boys titles in AJGA history. He’s also the first AJGA alum in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“Phil’s Hall of Fame credentials extend far beyond the golf course,” said tournament co-chairman Mike Kennedy at the 2015 tournament. “Sixteen years ago, Phil challenged The Thunderbirds and Grayhawk to develop the most competitive junior golf tournament in the world, and his inspiration, oversight and generous annual financial support from the Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation made that happen.”
All the tournament supporters did such a good job that Mickelson competes on tour against many players who played in the Thunderbird International Junior such as Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, Ryan Moore, Hunter Mahan, Kevin Na, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. Same goes for the LPGA. Paula Creamer, Inbee Park, Alison Lee, Lexi Thompson, Belen Mozo and Jessica Wallace also made the cut at the professional level.
Mickelson’s Valley connection goes back to his college days at ASU. After turning pro, he became an ambassador for Grayhawk and still sports the club’s logo on his bag. The Captain of the Club, Del Cochran, and Mike Kennedy are both members of The Thunderbirds, the civic-minded organization behind the WM Phoenix Open. Together they hatched a plan to host a world-class competition with unparalleled hospitality, thereby creating the ultimate “players” event.
The overall experience was enhanced in a number of ways. The club’s event hall transformed into the player’s hospitality hub. They brought in table tennis, foosball, video games and air hockey to keep the players busy between rounds. The tournament also included families at the welcome dinner, family BBQ and awards ceremony. Players participate in activities such as a glow-ball putting contest and a par-3 contest. All of the evening social events were one-of-a-kind, providing unique ways for players to bond and make new friendships.