NEW HAVEN, CT (August 3, 2016) -- The 15th Northern Junior Championship, conducted at historic New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Connecticut and presented by The Golf Performance Center, concluded Wednesday afternoon under crystal clear blue skies. It was a year of “firsts” for the tournament, which saw both the Boys Championship and Girls Championship decided by sudden death playoffs. Emerging victorious were Bobby Weise of Freehold, New Jersey and Virginie Ding of Hong Kong, China. Weise is the first Northern Junior champion from the Garden State, while Ding is the first foreign-born player to capture a Northern Junior crown.
The Boys Championship was tightly contested right out of the gates, as a handful of players held the solo lead throughout the afternoon. Overnight leader Thomas Downing of Holliston, Massachusetts was one under par for the championship through seven holes on Wednesday before giving five strokes back to par in the middle of his round. He bounced back well, playing his final seven holes in two under par, but finished the championship in a tie for fourth place with Erik Stauderman of Poughkeepsie, New York. Stauderman posted one of the best rounds of the day, firing a one under par 69 to catapult up the leaderboard and earn a commendable top five finish.
The low round of the day came from the young man who narrowly missed joining the sudden death playoff at even par. Mark Goetz of Greensburg, Pennsylvania posted a splendid 68 and finished several hours before the lead groups approached the 18th green. In the clubhouse at one over par, Goetz could only watch as eventual champion Bobby Weise two putted for par on the par 5 18th to post an even par total of 140 for the championship.
Just a few minutes later it was Weise’s turn to watch, and he anxiously watched the approach shot of Angelo Giantsopoulos of Richmond Hill, Ontario. Giantsopoulos held a share of the overnight lead at two under par but made three bogeys early on the back nine Wednesday to fall two strokes behind Weise. A clutch birdie on 16 and a solid par on 17 left Giantsopoulos needing a birdie on 18 to force a playoff. He hit two solid shots just short of the par 5 green in two, and then made a spectacular up and down for a closing birdie and another shot at the Northern Junior crown.
The sudden death playoff began on the only other par 5 at New Haven Country Club, the 10th. After beautiful drives, both Giantsopoulos and Weise took dead aim at the green in two. Weise played first and hit a majestic fairway wood shot onto the green, leaving himself a twelve foot eagle putt. Giantsopoulos was unable to find the putting surface and after trying to hole his short pitch shot and failing to convert his birdie putt, Weise had two putts for the victory. With a tap in birdie, the rising senior in high school earned the 2016 Northern Junior title, a host of special invitations to some of the nation’s other top junior events, and most importantly the confidence to continue to climb the ranks of junior and amateur golf for years to come.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to capture the Northern Junior title, especially here at beautiful New Haven Country Club,” said a beaming Weise. “I had a great time playing here this week, and thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to make the event so special. I can’t wait to come back next year to hopefully defend my title.”
In the Girls Championship, Virginie Ding of Hong Kong, China and Christine Shao of Green Brook, New Jersey squared off in their own sudden death playoff, also on the par 5 10th hole. Shao, who held the solo lead for most of the final round, finished her round with a string of pars and posted seven over par 147, two groups ahead of Ding. She watched the 18th green closely as Katie Lee (Ringoes, New Jersey) attempted a birdie putt to tie her for the lead in the clubhouse. Lee struck the putt beautifully, but it was not to be. Lee would have to settle for third place alone at eight over par 148, shooting two very fine rounds of 74 on both Tuesday and Wednesday. In the final group of the Girls Championship, Christine Shao once again watched anxiously as Virginie Ding played her third shot at the par 5 18th from the greenside bunker. It was a spectacular shot, stopping just a few feet from the hole, and once she sunk the short birdie putt it was time to head to the 10th tee for the playoff.
Ding took control of the playoff with another strong shot into the par 5, reaching the green in two and leaving herself with a twenty five foot eagle putt. Shao also played the hole well and gave herself a very makeable eight foot birdie attempt. A two putt birdie for Ding meant that Shao faced a must make situation. Sadly her birdie try slid past the hole, and with that Virginie Ding became the 2016 Northern Junior champion. Fortunately for both players, youth is on their side as Ding is a 2020 graduate and Shao is a 2019 graduate. Both players will have several more chances to etch their name onto the Northern Junior trophy in the coming years, and with such talent and humility both are sure to have long, successful careers.
At the closing ceremony, Ding expressed her gratitude to New Haven Country Club, but also thanked her support system. “First of all I want to thank my parents and my friends for supporting me this week. It’s just such an honor to win this tournament. I also want to congratulate Christine (Shao) for her great play and for showing such great sportsmanship out there today, especially in the playoff.”
Rounding out the top five of the Girls Championship at nine over par 149 were Rylie Heflin of Avondale, Pennsylvania and Michelle Lee of Hong Kong, China. Heflin’s final round 71 tied for the low round of the Girls Championship, and included a remarkable three birdies in a row to close at 16, 17, and 18.
In addition to both championships being decided by sudden death playoffs for the first time in Northern Junior history, all of the players also experienced another “first” as they approached the 18th green on Wednesday. Two members of the United States Marines greeted the players as they reached the final green, and players and families offered their thanks and appreciation for their brave service. It was a beautiful tribute to Stan Trojanowski, for whom the Northern Junior was originally founded. Stan Trojanowski was a marine himself, serving in World War II, and also an avid golfer. He passed away in 2001 due to mesothelioma.
This year marked the 15th playing of the Northern Junior Championship, an internationally recognized junior championship held each year in the state of Connecticut. The 2016 field featured players from 24 different states, provinces, and countries who had not reached their 19th birthday or entered college by August 3rd.
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