Finals set at AJGA Polo Junior Classic
Linnea Strom
Linnea Strom

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Four of the world’s top junior golfers remain in the hunt for the Polo Golf Junior Classic title following Thursday’s quarter and semifinal matches. Jorge Garcia of Miami and Cameron Young of Scarborough, N.Y., will square off in the Boys Division championship match, while Lakareber Abe of Angleton, Texas, and Linnea Ström of Hovas, Sweden, will vie for the Girls Division title.

The Polo Golf Junior Classic, which has been conducted annually since 1978, marks the first tournament of the American Junior Golf Association's 2014 season. The 156-player invitation-only field is made up of 78 boys and 78 girls, ages 13-18, from 27 states and seven foreign countries. Former champions include Stewart Cink (1989), Trevor Immelman (1995), Tiger Woods (1991), Paula Creamer (2002), Grace Park (1994, 1996) and Morgan Pressel (2004).

In the Boys Division, No. 30 seed Garcia faced No. 11 seed Sam Burns during Thursday’s quarterfinals match. Garcia, the newly appointed 2014 AJGA Boys Player Representative, battled back from 2-down through 14 and closed out the match with four- straight birdies through the Champion Course’s infamous Bear Trap to advance.

“The morning match was a great match,” Garcia said. “Sam and I were both playing very well. I found myself 2-down with four to play and then I was able to birdie my last four holes to win the match, 2-up. That kick-started me into my afternoon match.”

In the semifinals, Garcia took early control of the contest against the United Kingdom’s No. 7 seed Sam Horsfield. Through 11 holes, Garcia had four birdies and an eagle, eventually closing the match out with a 3-and-2 victory.

“I started that with three birdies which meant I was 7-under through my last seven holes,” Garcia said. “I was playing well, hitting my targets and making putts when I needed to. I couldn’t even feel my hands on the greens, the putter was just doing all the work out there.”

On the opposite side of the bracket, fifth- seeded Young, and No. 20 seed Brad Dalke of Hobart, Okla., faced off in the morning’s quarterfinals match. Young took an early, albeit, small lead at the turn and teetered between 1- and 2-up throughout the back nine. Dalke’s focused effort kept the match alive until the final hole, when Young prevailed 2-up.

“It was a good match,” Young said. “We went back and forth from the very beginning and we battled all the way. He got an early lead I think around No. 6 or 7 and then I made a few putts late under some pretty good pressure so that was a lot of fun.”

Young, playing in only his second AJGA event, defeated No. 25 seed Nathan Jeansonne of Keithville, La., 2 and 1 to earn his position in the finals match.

“It’s a great feeling,” Young said. “I haven’t played a lot of national events. It’s all the kids I’ve read about and seen scores online and things like that, and it’s a lot of fun to be in contention, playing with them and knowing I can play just as well.”

In the Girls Division, No. 13 seed Abe defeated No. 21 seed Lilia Vu of Fountain Valley, Calif., in the morning’s quarterfinals match, 3 and 1. In the afternoon contest, Abe was slated against future Alabama teammate Kristen Gillman of Austin. Gillman was the top seed in the Girls Division after earning stroke play medalist honors. Abe trailed Gillman until the eighth hole when she leveled the match after winning back- to-back holes. After winning six consecutive holes, Abe went 4-up through 13 and closed the match, 4 and 3.

“I’ve been hitting it really well, reading the greens and putting really well as well,” Abe said of her ability to bounce back in the match. “It makes this course a lot easier if you can handle the wind and get your feel on the greens.”

No stranger to high-level match play competition, Abe knows the importance of taking it one match at a time in a field of this caliber.

“All the players are really great and when they cut it down to 32, you know it’s the 32 best players in the field at this moment,” Abe said. “You have to hit a lot of greens and a lot of fairways and you just have to stay patient throughout the day because no one is just going to give you a match, you have to earn it.”

Ström also advances to the Girls Division championship match after defeating No. 10 seed Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar, Calif., and third-seeded Sierra Brooks of Sorrento, Fla.

The Swede had a flare for dramatics Thursday, earning both victories on No. 18. After winning the par-3, No. 17 and putting the match all square with Wu, Ström prevailed with two aggressive shots into the final green, winning 1- up.

“It was very fun to play against Bethany and I knew right away it was going to be a very tough match,” Ström said. “She started good, making a lot birdies and many putts, but I kept on playing my own game. It was very fun and exciting.”

Ström led Brooks through much of the match, going 3-up through three holes, but was unable to solidify the win until No. 18.

“This afternoon, I was very happy about the morning but I tried to just start over,” Ström said. “I started really good, I was 3-up early, but then she made some birdies. I just tried to keep focusing on my own game and I just wanted to play the final match.”

The Boys Division championship match will tee off at 8 a.m., while the final contest in the Girls Division will begin at 8:15 a.m

ABOUT THE Polo Junior Classic

One of the AJGA series of tournaments that require an invitation to participate. Format is 72 holes of stroke play, with a cut after 54 holes. Open to boys and girls aged 12-19.

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