Cheng captures crown at Bluffton Junior
Phuchanbanchob earns first IJGT Victory
BLUFFTON, S.C. – The International Junior Golf Tour was in Bluffton, S.C. on Dec. 7-8 for the Bluffton Junior at Hampton Hall. The two-day, 36-hole tournament was contested on the Pete Dye Signature Course at Hampton Hall Club. The field featured 57 players representing 15 states and 15 countries competing for IJGT Merit Points and national rankings.
Hampton Hall Club’s Pete Dye course was played at 6,936 yards for the Boys 15-19 Division, 5,895 yards for the Girls Division, and 6,219 yards for the Boys 14 & Under Division. Water hazards came into play on a number of holes while an abundance of bunkers gave the players even more difficulty. Weather for the first round was perfect, as temperatures hovered in the 70s with a slight breeze. The final round was drastically different, with temperatures around 50, rain, and more wind than the prior round.
Cheng’s played his first round bogey-free, on his way to a 4-under-par, 68. He shot a matching 34 on both the front and back nine, with birdies on Nos. 3, 9, 11, and 15. Even with the impressive score, Cheng sat in a tie for second with Bryson Nimmer of Bluffton, S.C., after the first round, two shots behind Chris Magi of Montreal, Canada. Magi caught fire on the front nine, with five birdies over a six-hole stretch on Nos. 3-8. He finished with a front-nine score of 32, the lowest nine-hole score of the tournament. Magi strung together three consecutive birdies on Nos. 11-13 and despite a bogey on the par-5, 15th, finished his round at 6-under-par 66 to capture the lead.
Cheng, Magi, and Nimmer were part of an impressive group of eight players who shot under-par during the first round. Shogo Ito of Tokyo, Japan shot 2-under-par 70, while Sam Meuret of Brunswick, Neb., Lohith Ramaraju of London, England, Jan Schneider of Erlangen, Germany, and Borys Shubinsky of Hilton Head Island, S.C., all shot 1-under-par 71.
Cheng shot under-par on the front-nine again during the final round, finishing at 1-under-par 35 to move to 5-under-par for the tournament and grab the lead after 27 holes. Cheng birdied the par-5, third hole, for the second consecutive day, to go along with eight pars on the front. Ahead of Cheng, Kim was making a charge, shooting a front-nine 33 to get back into contention.
As others faltered, the tournament became a three-man race between Cheng, Kim, and Nimmer. Cheng double-bogeyed No. 13, putting Nimmer only one stroke back, but Nimmer bogeyed holes Nos. 14 and 15 to fall back. Kim had back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 while scoring par at the 17th and 18th to finish with a score of 75-68-143, awaiting Cheng in the clubhouse. Cheng finished off his tournament in style, making birdie on the 18th hole to seal his victory.
“I tried to stay patient. I knew the scores would be high out there today,” Cheng mentioned when asked how he had prepared for the final round.
Kim’s final round 68 won him the Clazic Belts Low Final Round Award and gave him his fourth top-three finish of the season. Nimmer rounded out the top three with tournament totals of 68-76-144.
Cake Phuchanbanchob of Chiang Mai, Thailand, gathered her first career IJGT Victory in the Girls Division, earning the win by three strokes over Kelly Whaley of Farmington, Conn. Phuchanbanchob started the first round hot, draining a birdie on the opening hole. She dropped a stroke at No. 2 but quickly regained it with a birdie at the third. She carded her third birdie of her opening nine at the ninth hole to finish with a 2-under-par 34 on the front nine. Phuchanbanchob was matched by Thamonpat Siriko of Bangkok, Thailand on the front nine, as Siriko put together three consecutive birdies on holes Nos. 2-4 to shoot a 34. Whaley also impressed on the front, making birdies on Nos. 7 and 9 on her way to a 35. The three continued their strong play on the back nine, with Whaley’s even-par, 36 setting the tone. Phuchanbanchob and Whaley shot matching 71s in the first round, while Siriko lurked only one stroke back.
Despite the difficult weather conditions, Phuchanbanchob thrived during the final round. She shook off a bogey on hole No. 1, going on to birdie Nos. 3, 6, and 8 to again shoot a 34 on the front. Siriko carded an even-par, 36 on the front, but still fell three shots back of Phuchanbanchob while, Whaley was unable to keep pace with the leader, falling six strokes back.
Phuchanbanchob’s lead grew to seven strokes over both Siriko and Whaley after the 11th hole, and she was able to cruise to her victory. She finished the final round with scores of 34-39-73, good for a tournament total of 144. Her 73 also won her the Clazic Belts Low Final Round Award.
Phuchanbanchob said her key to dealing with the final round conditions was, “hitting an extra club,” and she also noted a strong short game as her key to victory.
Whaley finished second, with a total score of 147, while Siriko placed third at 149.
The Boys 14 & Under Division ended in a tie, with Takafumi Shimoji of Okinawa, Japan, earning the victory over Brandon McBride of Bluffton, S.C., via scorecard playoff. Both players finished the tournament with total scores of 155, but due to Shimoji finishing with a 41 to McBride’s 42 over the final nine holes, Shimoji was credited with the victory.
The two excelled during the first round, repeatedly going shot-for-shot. McBride jumped out early with a birdie at the par-5, third hole, but Shimoji answered with a birdie at the par-3, seventh hole. After the first nine, McBride held the lead by two strokes after carding a 1-over-par 37. Both performed even better on the back nine. McBride carded three more birdies on holes Nos. 13, 14, and 17, while dropping a stroke at the 10th and 11th holes to finish his day with an even-par 72. Shimoji birdied the 15th hole but bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot even-par on the back nine, and a 3-over-par 75, giving McBride the lead after the first round.
Neither McBride nor Shimoji were able to become comfortable in the cold, wet weather during the final round. Shimoji was able to pick up two strokes on McBride on the front nine to cut the lead to one as they entered the home stretch. Shimoji grabbed his first lead of the final round with a birdie on the 11th hole coupled with a McBride par. The lead flip-flopped between the two multiple times over the next couple holes, but as they walked to the 18th tee McBride held a one-shot lead. As darkness quickly crept in, McBride and Shimoji battled for the win. McBride could not connect on a par putt while Shimoji was able to save par. McBride willed in an eight-foot par putt to force a tie after 36 holes. With insufficient sunlight, the committee ruled that Shimoji was victorious via the recommended tiebreaker prescribed by the United States Golf Association, which was the score on the last nine holes of the competition.
Shimoji noted his driving was “very good,” and helped make up for a “so-so,” short game over the weekend.
Luis Sanchez of Tampico, Mexico, rounded out the top three with a tournament total of 80-82-162.
The International Junior Golf Tour’s next event will be the IJGA Invitational at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Dec. 14-15. The two-day, 36-hole event will consist of one round on the Ocean Course at Sea Pines and one round at Harbour Town Golf Links.