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AJGA Polo Junior

by Ryan Lavner

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (Nov. 26, 2010) – Jaye Marie Green can laugh at the memory. The U.S. Women’s Open was supposed to be her big break, her first crack at monstrous Oakmont, her chance to spark comparisons with friend Lexi Thompson on the grandest stage in golf. Then she finished last in the 156-player field.

A summer that began with such promise eventually spiraled out of control, and when missed cuts and dismal finishes piled up with alarming regularity, Green began questioning whether she should give up the game.

“In my head I was wondering, ‘What am I even doing playing golf?’ ” Green said Friday. “It was really a low point.”

In one of the most unlikely results of the season, Green rediscovered her game over five days and six rounds at PGA National, capping an emotional year with a 2-and-1 victory over Karen Chung to win the AJGA Polo Junior Classic.

“Honestly, I got blessed by God,” said Green, 16. “I’m so happy right now.”

And maybe even more surprised. Green, of Boca Raton, Fla., qualified this summer for the U.S. Women’s Open, but somewhere in preparing for golf’s most brutal test, she lost her swing. Oakmont can humble even the game’s elite – Michelle Wie shot an opening-round 82 – and it surely made no allowances those two days for Green, who shot 85-86 and finished last among players who didn’t withdraw.

“I just put so much pressure on myself,” she said, “and I didn’t feel like my game was ready. I thought that maybe if I do well in the Open, that could lay some things out for me. But it went totally the opposite direction.”

That performance seemed to linger, and Green made the cut in only one of her eight tournaments this summer. When she tied for 58th at the AJGA Girls Championship in September, she began to wonder whether she had endured enough.

“I guess you have to hit rock bottom to realize that you need to work harder than everyone else, because I definitely wasn’t,” she said. “I knew I loved golf, and that I had put so much time and effort into it, but I was on the verge of quitting. I just needed God to show me an opening.”

So for the past two months, Green spent five hours a day on the range. She verbally committed to Florida. And she played the Polo Junior, the final AJGA event of the season, just hoping to make the cut after stroke-play qualifying.

After rounds of 76-72, Green steamrolled through the match-play bracket, winning the opening hole in every match and never trailing.

Now, a banner bearing her picture will hang outside the PGA National clubhouse – right next to . . . Lexi Thompson’s.

“That definitely feels good,” said Green, No. 68 in Golfweek’s Rankings, “because to see where they are now, that means the world to me.”

The path to the podium was no less satisfying for Cody Proveaux, who, after a season defined by close calls, dispatched some of the best juniors in the country – including top-ranked Anthony Paolucci – to capture his first AJGA title. He beat Michael Kim, 4 and 3, in the finals on Friday in a performance so dominant that he needed to play only the first leg of the watery Bear Trap.

The Polo Junior, perhaps more than any other junior event, produces no fluke winners; players are tested over five days, over 126 holes, with 11 of the top 20 juniors in the field. That helps explain why the list of past champions features everyone from major winners (Tiger Woods) to college standouts (Jamie Lovemark) to one of the game’s rising stars, Oliver Schniederjans, who won his first AJGA title here last year and has since ascended to No. 3 in the country.

“I realize now that I am one of the best players,” said Proveaux, 16.

The good ol’ country boy from Leesville, S.C., who has to travel 25 miles a day to play the nearest course, seized controlon the sixth hole, then applied more pressure with three birdies coming in and a miraculous par save from a flower bed. It was a scrappy round, indeed, from a player whose swing wasn’t refined in an academy. Far from it, in fact: Proveaux has an early wrist set, a loopy move at the top of his backswing and a severe drop to the inside, a la Kenny Perry or Jay Haas. It’s an unorthodox motion, he said, “that not many juniors copy.”

“It was a move my coach (Mike Castelluzzi) had me do,” said Proveaux, a Clemson commit, “and all of a sudden, it worked. I tried to swing straight, but I couldn’t do it. For my body type, because I’m a little bigger, he wanted me to get around to it. And it was perfect.”

Proveaux fought his swing early against Kim, runner-up at this year’s Western Junior, but took the lead with a two-putt birdie on the sixth and a dazzling save from the bunker on No. 7. After birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 to build a 3-up lead, Proveaux hit a poor tee shot on the par-4 12th, his ball settling in the grass above a fairway bunker. He snap-hooked his approach near the cart path, into a flower bed, but managed to save par after a free drop and a 30-foot putt over a ridge.

It was yet another of those only-in-match-play moments, where Kim’s glimmer of hope was dashed, improbably, and transformed into a moment of clarity. Because on the next hole, after a mammoth drive and solid approach, Proveaux rolled in a 15-footer to go 4 up with five to play. He closed out the match – and his first AJGA victory – with a par on 15.

“Wow,” Kim said, shaking his head, “he made a lot of putts. He definitely deserved to win.”

View results for AJGA Polo Junior Classic Golf Tournament

ABOUT THE AJGA Polo Junior Classic

One of the AJGA series of tournaments that require an invitation to participate. Format is 36 holes of stroke play qualifying, from which 32 players advance to match play.

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