PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (Nov 25, 2011) — Matt NeSmith of North Augusta, S.C., claimed his first AJGA Invitational title at the Polo Golf Junior Classic Friday with a 4 and 3 victory over Parker Derby of Columbus, Ga. In the Girls Division, Nicole Morales of South Salem, N.Y., overcame a three-hole deficit to defeat Jessica Vasilic of Anaheim Hills, Calif., and earn the title.
NeSmith never trailed in the championship match. Ranked No. 5 in the Polo Golf Rankings, he went one up with a birdie on the first hole, but Derby fought back with his own birdie on No. 3 to bring the match back to all square. NeSmith took a one up lead again on No. 6, only to have Derby counter with a birdie on No. 7 to square the match once more. Ne Smith took the lead again on nine, making the turn 1-up, and built his lead from there. He went four up with a birdie on the par-4 No. 14, and closed the match with a par on No. 15.
“The longer the match went on, the better I played,” NeSmith said. “My putting was working and I was hitting the ball well.”
For NeSmith, the win was a hard-fought battle. With four of five matches against Rolex Junior All-Americans, winning the Polo Golf Junior Classic means even more to the University of South Carolina signee.
“Winning this tournament means I’ve beat some of the best kids in the country,” NeSmith said. “I’m 5-0 in matches this week against four Rolex Junior All-Americans. To have a really tough road to the finals, then to have a tough final match, makes it even better.”
Morales, a high school sophomore, had an inauspicious beginning to her round. Heading to the fifth tee, she was three down to Vasilic, who had birdied three of the first four holes. She gained two holes back on the front nine, and made the turn one down to the Swede. On No. 10, Morales made her second birdie of the day to bring the match back to all square.
With the swing in momentum, Morales gained confidence heading into the final holes. She took a 1-up lead on No. 13, and after an aggressive second shot from a fairway bunker on No. 16, won the hole and led dormie two heading into No. 17.
“Standing on the tee of No. 17, I just couldn’t believe I had done it,” Morales said. “I knew it wasn’t over and I knew she could make the putt, but there are really no other words to describe the way I was feeling then.”
Morales, who advanced to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, also faced stiff competition on her road to the championship match. Like NeSmith, she faced four Rolex Junior All-Americans in her campaign. Playing in only her third AJGA event, she recognized the gravity of her accomplishment.“It means everything to me to win. So many LPGA players have won this event in their amateur careers and just to be a part of that is amazing.”
The Polo Golf Junior Classic, which has been conducted annually since 1978, marked the first tournament of the American Junior Golf Association’s 2012 season. The 156-player invitation-only field started with 78 boys and 78 girls, ages 12-18, from 27 states, Puerto Rico and 12 foreign countries. After 36 holes of stroke play qualifying, the low 32 players were seeded for a match play tournament. Former champions include Stewart Cink (1989), Trevor Immelman (1995), Tiger Woods (1991), Paula Creamer (2002), Grace Park (1994, 1996) and Morgan Pressel (2004). During Friday’s matches, the Girls Division played the Champion Course as a 6,398-yard, par 72, while the Boys Division played it as a 7,131-yard, par 71.
View results for AJGA Polo Junior Classic Golf Tournament