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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Brinker finishes tied for 21st, Lees tied for 49th in Girls Junior PGA Championship

   Phoebe Brinker, a 15-year-old from Wilmington, Del. who is a sophomore at Tower Hill, highlighted a nice showing by a foursome of girls with local ties who made the cut at the Girls Junior PGA Championship, which concluded Friday at the Country Club of St. Albans’ Lewis & Clark Course in St. Albans, Mo.
   Brinker followed up a strong 3-under 69 in Thursday’s third round with a 1-over 73 to finish tied for 21st at 1-under 287.
   Agnes Irwin senior Kaitlyn Lees finished up with a 1-over 73 to end up tied for 49th at 9-over 297, Lauren Freyvogel, another 15-year-old who finished fourth in the PIAA Class AAA Championship as a sophomore at Pine Richland last fall, had a final-round 76 to finish tied for 55th at 11-over 299 and Brinker’s Tower Hill teammate, 15-year-old Jennifer Cleary, also from Wilmington, finished tied for 65th at 17-over 305.
   The title went to Rose Zhang, a 14-year-old from Irvine, Calif. who put together four remarkable rounds to finish at 20-under 268. 20-under. She’s 14. Anyway, Zhang tied the record set by Kristen Gillman three summers ago. Gillman, a sophomore at Alabama from Austin, Texas, went on to capture the U.S. Women’s Amateur title so she got on a pretty good roll that summer.
   How about this for a measure of the level of competition we’re talking about here. Brooke Seay, a 16-year-old from San Diego, Calif., made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open and completed play last Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. tied for 60th with Na Yeon Choi, a former U.S. Women’s Open champion.
   Yet Seay, probably a little worn out from her experience at Trump National, could do no better than a tie for 30th at the Girls Junior PGA.
   Brinker made a big move up the leaderboard with her third-round 69 in which she birdied five of her first six holes on her way to a front-nine 31. She cooled off a little on the back with seven pars and two bogeys.
   Brinker birdied the second and made eight pars on the front in her final round. She made a bogey at 14, birdied the 16th and finished up with a double bogey at the last to complete her 73.
   The 17-year-old Lees, who plays out of Philadelphia Country Club, and Cleary, who plays out of Applecross Country Club, were representing the Philadelphia Section PGA after finishing first and second, respectively, in a qualifier at Penn Oaks Golf Club. Brinker and Rylie Heflin, the recently crowned Pennsylvania Junior Girls’ champion who missed the cut at St. Albans by a shot, also teed it up at Penn Oaks, so perhaps the Philadelphia Section picked up a couple of wild-card entries to the Girls Junior PGA Championship. Each section was guaranteed two spots.
   Pretty sure it was the biggest stage that Lees, a two-time Inter-Ac League champion, has ever played on and she responded with some excellent golf.
   Lees’ third-round 79 is a little deceiving in that she played a really steady round of golf with 15 pars. Double bogeys at six and 10 and a triple bogey at the 17th marred an otherwise solid round.
   And, to her credit, Lees bounced back in the final round with a strong effort. She opened with a birdie at the first and made a bogey at five to turn for home at even for the day. She made bogeys at 11 and 13 before a birdie at 17 got her back to 1-over for the round.
   Freyvogel had an up-and-down third round that included three birdies, two double bogeys and four bogeys. Her final-round 76 featured two birdies and four bogeys.
   Cleary, who has been playing some really good golf all summer, had opened with an impressive 2-under 70 in Tuesday’s first round, but finished with a pair of 80s in rounds 3 and 4.
   It’s funny, I gave Tower Hill product Matt Smith, a pretty nice player in his own right, the guided tour of Stonewall’s Old Course in a practice round this week for Monday’s U.S. Amateur qualifier at Tom Doak’s twin gems in northwestern Chester County.
   Smith is familiar with the games of both Brinker and Cleary, saying, even at 15, “they’re already playing golf.” They’re not just out there hitting the ball around, they know what they’re doing, he said.
   Cleary is staying in Missouri as she’ll be heading for the U.S. Junior Girls’ Championship, which gets under way with the first round of qualifying for match play Monday at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.
   Cleary tees off the 10th at 7:11 a.m. Monday. She’s in a group with Alexa Pano, the Lake Worth, Fla. phenom who doesn’t turn 13 until next month. Pano finished tied for 20th at St. Albans at 3-under 285.
   Lees was the first alternate for the Girls’ Junior out of a qualifier at Silver Creek Country Club in which Cleary was the medalist, but a quick review of the starting times seems to indicate Lees didn’t get in.
   As for Zhang, she opened with a 3-under 69 on St. Albans’ Lewis & Clark Course and that was her worst round of the tournament. She went 65-66 in the middle two rounds and finished off with a 4-under 68.
   Fellow Californian Yealimi Noh, from Concord, did her best to keep up. When Noh birdied the 14th hole, she actually crept within two shots of Zhang. But Zhang responded with birdies at 15 and 16 and Noh made a double bogey at 16.
   Noh put together rounds of 66, 68, 70 and 70 for a spectacular 14-under 274 total and lost by six shots.

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