Jennifer Cleary, a 15-year-old from Wilmington, Del., was the first-round leader at the Pennsylvania Junior Girls’ Championship earlier this week at Hershey Country Club’s East Course, but couldn’t hold onto the lead and finished second by a shot.
Turns out two rounds on the challenging East Course at Hershey was the perfect preparation for a pretty nice consolation prize, a ticket to the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, which will be held July 24 to 29 at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.
Cleary fired an even-par 71 Wednesday at Silver Creek Country Club in Hellertown in a U.S. Junior Girls’ qualifier administered by the Golf Association of Philadelphia to claim medalist honors. It will be the second time Cleary has made it to the U.S. Girls’ Junior. The Tower Hill golfer failed to make match play in her first try as a 13-year-old two years ago at Tulsa Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
A field of 44 junior standouts were battling for just four berths to the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Ami Gianchandani of Wachtung, N.J. finished a shot behind Cleary in second with a 1-over 72. Bailey Davis, a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. at the end of the summer, was another shot back in third at 73. And Gianchandani’s teammate on The Pingry School golf team, Christine Shao of Green Brook, N.J., grabbed the final ticket to Boone Valley with a 74.
Gianchandini is a senior and Shao a junior at Pingry in Basking Ridge, N.J.
Agnes Irwin senior Kaitlyn Lees, the two-time Inter-Ac League champion who plays out of Philadelphia Country Club, is the first alternate after finishing in a tie for fifth with a 4-over 75 over the 6,153-yard, par-71 Silver Creek layout. A year ago, Meghan Fahey, who plays out of Overbrook Golf Club and Merion Golf Club, was the first alternate and got the call to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
The second alternate is Esther Park of Wilmington, Del., who also had a 75.
Cleary struggled a little in the second round at Hershey Tuesday, carding a 4-over 75, but finished strong and ended up just a shot behind the winner, Rylie Heflin.
“I had a rough nine to start the second day at (the Pennsylvania Junior Girls’), unfortunately, and had a stretch where I had five bogeys in a row,” Cleary told the GAP website. “But the back nine of (Tuesday’s) tournament really gave me confidence coming into today, even though I fell short. I really felt good about my game coming here today.”
Cleary had three birdies on her card. Her gap wedge finished 15 feet from the hole at the par-4 seventh and she dropped the birdie putt. She drilled another gap wedge to four feet at the 11th and made that. And she knocked a 9-iron to 15 feet at the 135-yard 16th and got that birdie putt to fall.
Several other players who had high finishes in the Pennsylvania Junior Girls’ played well at Silver Creek Wednesday, including Lees, who finished tied for fifth in pursuit of her third straight state Junior crown.
The freshly crowned state Junior champion Heflin, who plays out of Hartefeld National Golf Club, had a 78. Conestoga junior Samantha Yao, who plays out of White Manor Country Club and finished tied for ninth at Hershey, also had a 78. Samantha Fritzinger, who plays out of Bethlehem Golf Club, also finished tied for ninth at Hershey and posted a 79 Wednesday at Silver Creek.