When discussing the field for the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, all Tom Wyatt can do is shake his head and laugh.
“It never ceases to amaze me how far they hit it and how good they are,” said Wyatt, who is chairman of the tournament and president of Sage Valley.
For the fourth annual tournament, Wyatt and his team of volunteers have assembled another stellar field. Fifty-four of the top junior boys (18 and under) from around the world will compete at the private club in Graniteville, and the 54-hole tournament begins Thursday.
“It’s hard to believe the field keeps getting better and better,” Wyatt said.
Seventeen players who competed in 2013 will return for this year’s event, and five players in the field have two years of experience at Sage Valley. That includes Sam Horsfield, who tied for second in 2013. He recently committed to play at Florida, and he figures to be one of the favorites.
Cameron Champ, Brad Dalke, Doug Ghim and Alejandro Tosti are the other four golfers who will be playing in their third Junior Invitational this week.
The field also includes Golfweek’s top-ranked junior player, Scottie Scheffler. He won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2013 and captured the Rolex Junior Player of the Year award. Also scheduled to participate is Andy Zhang, who became the youngest U.S. Open qualifier two years ago when he was 14.
It all adds up to perhaps the strongest field since the tournament began in 2011.
The first three winners of the Junior Invitational have gone on to great success. While Matthew Fitzpatrick didn’t win the Junior Invitational a year ago, he did win the U.S. Amateur later in the summer and earned a berth in this year’s Masters Tournament.
“We’re ecstatic,” Wyatt said. “Some of these kids have gone on to college and done great things. It’s going to be fun watching the kids play.”
A full week of activities awaits the 54 players.
Three-time Masters winner Gary Player is the featured speaker at Tuesday night’s opening ceremony, and fundraising “am-am” events will be held Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Junior Invitational is sponsored by Electrolux, and proceeds from the tournament benefit the Aiken and Augusta chapters of The First Tee program. In just three years, the tournament has donated more than $600,000 to the local First Tee programs and another $100,000 in equipment to First Tee participants.
While the tournament has changed its schedule slightly to finish Saturday, one thing that won’t change is the course setup. The winning score has dropped from 20-under in 2011 to 4-under in 2013, and that’s just how the tournament wants it.
“The finishing stretch between 16, 17 and 18 is pretty good,” Wyatt said. “I’m sure we’ll have the rough grown in a little bit. That seems to make a big impact.”