STAUNTON, VA., (July 20, 2011) -- At age 14,Herndon’s Julie Luo is already in select company both on and off the golf course.
Luo carded a final round 1-under-par 71 to post a wire-to-wire three-stroke victory as the 42nd Virginia State Golf Association Junior Girls’ Championship concluded today at The Club at Ironwood.
After opening with 73, Luo, a VSGA member at Reston National Golf Course, finished the championship with an even-par 144 aggregate. She became the event’s youngest champion since 2003 when another northern Virginian, Sara Hurwitch of Potomac Falls, won as a 14-year-old.
Chesapeake’s Lauren Coughlin, 17, also had a final round 71 and placed second at the championship for a third consecutive year (3-over 147). Haymarket’s Karishma Thiagaraj, 17, closed with 73 and finished five off the pace at 5-over 149. Luo’s fellow club member, 17-year-old Jessica Merrill of Reston (77), closed play five back at 8-over 152.
Luo entered the final round two strokes ahead of a pair of VSGA members at Reston National in Merrill and 13-year-old Shannon Brooks (Vienna), whom she was grouped with in the final round. She was three clear of Coughlin at the start on Wednesday’s closing day. Making just her second start in the championship, Luo showed the calm of a tested veteran while playing in the final grouping, collecting four birdies against three bogeys.
Luo was even par on the first nine, while Coughlin, playing one grouping ahead, shot two under on the outward half, igniting her rally by birdieing three of the first five holes, and was one back of Luo going to the second nine.
On the final day, however, Luo showed uncanny composure and would help decide the outcome on the inward half, playing a five-hole stretch from Nos. 11-15 in three under par. The stretch moved Luo to two under for the championship and helped her gain a three-stroke lead that she wouldn’t relinquish.
After being left of the green at the par-5 11th, she converted a 10-foot birdie putt to get into red numbers. At the par-4 14th, Luo played a 5-hybrid club to 25 feet and somehow drained the downhill big-breaking left to right birdie putt. She completed the deciding stretch by getting up and down from just off the green at the par-5 15th hole.
Coughlin was three under for the day and one over for the championship following a birdie at the par-5 15th hole, but saw her title hopes derailed after making double-bogey 6 at the par-4 16th hole. Coughlin, competing in her last Junior Girls’ event for which she is eligible before starting her first year at the University of Virginia in the fall, won the 16-18 girls’ division with Thiagaraj finishing second.
About the only thing that went wrong for Luo on the last day were late bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18 – blemishes that would ultimately prove meaningless on a day when she hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
Luo, who says taking home her first Junior Girls’ title is the highlight of her golf career, admittedly relied on a time-honored tip from her instructor, Stephen Moskal, the director of instruction at Top Golf Alexandria.
“I was wondering how everyone else was playing, but my teacher taught me not to think about anyone else’s score; just play my own game,” said Luo, who will have her name engraved on the Ann Lewis Trophy. “I concentrated on hitting each shot as well as I could.”
By now, Luo is used to high achievement. Away from the championship golf stage, she recently dedicated herself to gaining admission to the highly-competitive Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, where she’ll start her first year in the fall.
“I’ve received great support from my family and I love golf,” Luo said with a smile. “I’ve been able to become a top student – and I’m getting better at golf.”
Lyndsey Hunnell, 15, of Troutville shot a final round best 3-under 69 – improving her first day score by 16 strokes – to finish second behind Luo among the 14-15 year-olds (12-over 154).
Brooks, who will start her first year at northern Virginia’s Madison High School in the fall, closed with 79 and completed play at 10-over 154, outdistancing the next-nearest pursuer in the 12-13 age division by 34 shots. Brooks won the age bracket for a second consecutive start at the VSGA Junior Girls’.
Meanwhile, 9-year-old Victoria Tip-Aucha of Manassas Park (13-over 85) was victorious for a second straight year in the 11 and under division.
View results for Virginia Junior Girls' Amateur Golf Championship