Nicholas Reach made it look easy last year.
Now a freshman at the University of Georgia, Reach set a course record en route to a 20-under-par total to win the inaugural Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
This year, the best 54 juniors from around the world will have the same goal in mind – to play like Reach and hoist the heavy Gibbs Trophy on Sunday.
This year’s event begins at 9 a.m. today, and it does so with a few changes. First, the dates of the tournament have changed to allow more spectators to watch it. Last year, it was a Wednesday through Friday event. Now, it runs today through Sunday.
Also, the course itself is expected to be tougher than it was a year ago, when Reach set a new standard with 10-under 62 in the first round.
George Cunningham, of Tucson, Ariz., who finished in 18th place in the 2011 Junior Invitational, has found the fairways tighter and the rough higher.
“Last year, you could pretty much hit it wherever you wanted off the tee,” said Cunningham, one of 10 returning players. “Then, if you were on with your irons, you could go low.”
Despite a smattering of rain throughout the week, soft greens won’t be a concern. The course is equipped with a SubAir system, which sucks water from the surface of every green. Cunningham expects course officials to speed up the greens to help Sage Valley defend itself.
Cunningham, who said he expects the winning score to be about 10 or 11-under, approves of another change tournament officials made. All golfers are required to wear pants, making the Junior Invitational the only major junior event to enforce that rule.
“I don’t mind wearing pants,” Cunningham said. “It’s early in the year. It’s not too hot. It definitely looks better.”
Another change: a new award to the champion. The winner of this year’s event will receive a replica of the 3-foot-tall, 96-pound trophy which bears a bas-relief image of Reach receiving his winner’s jacket last year from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.