Seventy-eight elite junior golfers from around the world made the trip to ChampionsGate this weekend to compete in the AJGA Sergio Garcia Foundation Junior Championship and ended up getting quite a bit more than they expected.
Following the welcome ceremony and lunch on Friday, the players enjoyed a private presentation by David Leadbetter and renowned Sports Psychologist Dr. Bob Winters. The duo gave tips and advice on how the young golfers can transition to the next steps in their playing careers and discussed the "10 Commandments for Junior Golfers," a gameplan Leadbetter believes should be a part of every young competitive golfers' strategy.
A longtime board member of the AJGA, Leadbetter opened up the world-class practice facilities and academy buildings for the players and tournament operations. Marking the first year the event has been held at the treacherous ChampionsGate "International" Course, players were faced with a 7,125 yd course scattered with lakes, marshes, and the occasional 10 ft. alligator basking on the banks.
Round 1 proved especially difficult as the wind swept across the flat, links-style course, nearly eliminating any birdie chances and leaving the low round of the day at 74.
Up until this point, participants were told Sergio wasn't going to be able to be there in person, and staff had to make sure it stayed that way until Sunday afternoon. As the first groups were finishing on Sunday, they were led to a closed club fitting bay in the academy building and were told they were filming a thank you video to send to Sergio. Once they were in the middle of their thank you's, Garcia surprised each group one by one by popping out from behind the backdrop.
By the 36th hole on Sunday, Jenny Kim was competition was down to a playoff as Jorge Villar and World No. 2 ranked amateur Joaquin Niemann headed to the 10th tee box. As if the pressure wasn't already high, the gallery that had congregated around the 10th hole now included 2017 Masters Champion Sergio Garcia and his fiancè Angela Akins.
Villar's drive ended up in a fairway bunker, while Niemann's split the fairway leaving just a wedge into the green. Villar's bunker shot found the hazard, as Niemann's approach plugged in a short greenside bunker. Villar hit his approach onto the back of the green, but Niemann's up-and-down from the bunker finished out his par and sealed the win. Garcia even came out to join in the celebrations after the winning putt fell.
The 2017 Masters Champion personally gave out the trophies at the award ceremony alongside AJGA Tournament Director Nathan Nottrott, who also presented appreciation awards to ChampionsGate Director of Golf Patrick Dill, LGA Managing Director Ben Riches, and LJGA Director/Tournament Chairman Jose Maria "Txema" Sánchez.
For more information about the Sergio Garcia Foundation, visit www.sergiogarcia.com/en/the-foundation/