Dalke, Chung claim AJGA Thunderbird titles

Brad Dalke undoubtedly turned some heads last year when he committed to Oklahoma as a 12-year-old. Monday, he let his golf do all the talking.

Dalke, 13, became the youngest invitational winner in AJGA history, closing in 2-under 70 to finish one shot ahead of Billy Kennerly and Jake Higginbottom to win the Thunderbird International Junior. Dalke finished at 5 under par on Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Playing in the second-to-last group, Dalke’s tee shot at the final hole, a par 5, found the fairway bunker and left him with 193 yards to the hole for his second shot. Dalke went for the green, leaving his approach in the hazard, but he converted his up-and-down for what proved to be a tournament-clinching 20-foot par.

“I was pretty confident over that putt, actually,” Dalke said. “I was shaking but I felt like I had a good read on it and it went in.”

Dalke made just one bogey in his final round, while making birdies at Nos. 7, 13 and 14.

Kennerly, the event’s 36-hole leader turned in a final-round 73, but inched closer to his first AJGA invitational victory. Kennerly has finished T-8, T-13 and T-5 in last three AJGA invites.

Shun Yat Hak, the highest-ranked player in the field (No. 6) struggled in Round 1, shooting 80, but he responded with 75-71 in his final two rounds to finish T-28. Gavin Hall, No. 7 in the Golfweek/Junior Rankings, finished T-12 (1 over), while Jim Liu, the 2010 U.S. Junior Champion, finished T-16 (4 over).

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Karen Chung’s resume had been lacking an AJGA Invitational title. The 16-year-old breezed to her first one Monday at the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior, beating runner-up Simin Feng by six shots.

Chung and Feng roared into the lead during the first round with 4-under 68s at Grayhawk. Chung, of Livingston, N.J., maintained that pace, following with rounds of 70-71 to finish at 7-under 209. She had 14 birdies on the week.

“After I reached the back nine, I think I only had a three-shot lead. I calmed down and I told myself ‘A three-shot lead is a lot in this tournament,’ and I just kept focusing,” Chung said.

This is the third career AJGA victory for Chung, who has won the AJGA Girls Championship each of the past two years. She came close to USGA glory in 2008 when she finished runner-up to Alexis Thompson at the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

“This is my first Invitational win and it feels so good,” said Chung. “My first two rounds I got really lucky on a couple shots, I scored really well. Today I was kind of shaky in the beginning but I got it back in the end.”

For Feng, a 1-under 215 total is a vast improvement since last year’s Thunderbird. The 16-year-old underwent massive swing changes, and closed with a final-round 103 that week. She entered this year’s Thunderbird of a runner-up finish at the Under Armour/Vicky Hurst Championship.

Ashlan Ramsay, of Milledgeville, Ga., was third at even par and Kyung Kim, No. 3 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings for the class of 2012, was fourth.

– The AJGA contributed to this report

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