Memorial Day weekend tradition features top-ranked AJGA golfers
As it reaches a momentous milestone, the Thunderbird International Junior teed off this morning with 78 players from across the world, boys and girls, ages 12-19 representing 16 states and 12 countries playing for top honors.
Top-Ranked Players in the Boys Division
On the boys’ side, nine of the top-10 players by virtue of the Rolex AJGA Rankings are in the field. Karl Vilips of Wesley Chapel, Florida (by way of Australia) tops the list at No. 1. He placed third last year and sixth the year before. Ranked second, Michael Thorbjornsen of Wellesley, Massachusetts won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in 2018 and placed 21st at the Thunderbird in that same year. Travis Vick (No. 3) from Houston come in 15th last year and sixth in 2017. Canon Claycomb (No. 4) of Bowling Green, Kentucky came in second place last year and third place in 2017. Jackson Van Paris (No. 5) Pinehurst, North Carolina placed 43 last year. Joseph Pagdin (No. 6) of Orlando (UK) finished 17th in 2017. William Moll (No. 8) of Huston finished 36th last year 11th the year before. J. Holland Humphries (No. 9) of Austin, Texas and Alexander Yang (No. 10) Carlsbad, California make their debuts this year at the Thunderbird International Junior.
Top-Ranked Players in the Girls Division
On the Girls’ side, No. 1 on the Rolex AJGA Rankings, Rose Zhang of Irvine, California, returns to the field after a 10th-place finish last year. No. 3, Rachel Heck of Memphis, Tennessee, sets her sights on an elusive win after finishing in second place for the last two years and in fifth place the year before. New to the event, Xin “Cindy” Kou (No. 4) of Windermere, Florida, has the hot hand in recent AJGA tournaments with two wins and a second-place finish in her last four outings. Erica Shepherd (No. 6) of Greenwood, Indiana, placed 26th last year and fifth in 2017. Bohyun Park (No. 7) from Farmers Branch, Texas, enters the field for the first time. Alexa Melton (No. 8) of Covina, California placed 23rd in 2017. And Michaela Morard (No. 10) of Huntsville, Alabama placed 10th last year, 14th in 2017 and 22nd in 2016.
In her second-consecutive appearance (8th in 2018), Surprise, Arizona, resident and verbal commit to Arizona State University, Ashley Menne, 17, is the only local junior golfer in the field. She is currently No. 39 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings highlighted by three second-place finishes in 2018 to go with one win in 2017 at the ACDS / Ryan Moore Junior at Oakbrook. Coincidentally, Moore won the Thunderbird International Junior in 2001. With a victory, Menne would become the second Arizona player in tournament history to win behind Philip Francis in 2006.
Notable Past Champions and Participants
This year’s contestants join a long list of notable players at the Thunderbird International Junior. Past champions include Brian Harman, Brad Dalke, Sam Burns and Norman Xiong. Other notable participants (who did not win) include Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Kevin Na, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan. Girls past champions have been successful as well including Morgan Pressel, Ariya Jutanugarn, Belen Mozo and Brittany Lang. Paula Creamer, Inbee Park, Alison Lee and Lexi Thompson also competed in the event and advanced to the LPGA Tour.
Stop By – See the Next Rickie Fowler
Spectators are welcome, and who knows, you may see the next Rickie Fowler or Lexi Thompson. The three-round tournament will be played Saturday-Monday, May 25-27 with tee times each day 7:15 – 9:15 a.m. Live scoring is available: TaylorMade | Adidas Golf Live Scoring.