The American Junior Golf Association ramps up its season this weekend with the playing of three tournaments, the AJGA Simplify Boys Championship at Carlton Woods in the Woodlands, Texas, the UNIQLO / Adam Scott Junior Championship at River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard, Calif. and the Mariah Stackhouse
Girls Invitational, which starts Saturday at the hostess’s alma mater, Stanford University.
Twelve of the top-30 ranked junior girls in the Rolex AJGA Rankings, including No. 3 Anna Davis, will compete over the weekend at Stanford Golf Course, where Stackhouse spent countless hours honing her skills which helped the Cardinal win the 2015 national championship.
After a standout career at Stanford, Stackhouse turned professional in 2017 and four years later, joined fellow LPGA Tour players Annika Sorenstam, Alison Lee, Sung Hyun Park, Se Ri Pak, Stacy Lewis, Albane Valenzuela and Marina Alex, in lending her name to a top junior golf tournament. For the second consecutive year, Stackhouse will host 75 top junior players who have the same aspirations she had as a young girl growing up in the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale, Ga.
The event's been everything Stackhouse hoped for since taking on the mantle of the tournament.
“It's a full-circle moment,” Stackhouse said, “and I feel like everything about the event and the location is perfect for me to be a part of. It was a no-brainer; I was 100% in and wanted to do whatever I could be associated with it.”
Hosting the 54-hole tournament, with a storied history of victories by current LPGA members Emma Talley, Yealimi Noh and Lauren Stephenson, lets Stackhouse inspire the next generation while honoring her own time with the AJGA.
“When you’re moving through life and career and golf, you keep your head down just keep going, going and going,” said Stackhouse. “It’s not always easy to take a step back and say this is what I’ve been, this is where I am, this is where I want to be. Eight to nine years removed from the AJGA, I’m literally a professional golfer, I’ve gone through two new cycles in the game of golf to get here, it really let me take a step back.”
The 27-year-old still vividly recalls her time as a junior player. The four-time AJGA champion earned Rolex Junior All-America honors three times, including a first-team appearance in 2011. Stackhouse finished tied for second in the 2011 edition of the event she now sponsors. While at Stanford, she was a three-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection and recorded 24 top-10 finishes, including four individual wins. Stackhouse was also a four-time All-American who helped lead the Cardinal to the 2015 National Championship as a junior.
She remembers the time spent with her friends cleaning up the courses she played on by fixing pitch marks and filling divots.
“These were such great years of my life playing on the AJGA tour,” said Stackhouse. “I’m still close with some of my buddies from those days. Seeing how far I’ve come -- we’ve come – being able to interact and mentor (young players) through speaking engagements or during the tournament week is incredibly special.
"That's what makes the AJGA incredibly special. They are literally developing the next generation of great golfers, but they're also providing young people an opportunity to travel and build those friendships."
Stackhouse also talks to another important audience of junior golf: the parents. She tries to pull aside and share with the player's parents how to push and encourage kids without driving them away from the game. It's a challenge her father Ken wrestled with as she competed growing up.
Stackhouse recalls when it crystalized for her dad that he needed to scale back how hard he pushed. They played with three other father/child pairs near where she grew up. After one round, when Stackhouse was near the end of middle school, one of the fathers went beyond constructive criticism in sternly asking his daughter why she didn't play well.
After that incident, the fathers came together. They held each other accountable going forward as not to be the stereotypical crazy sports dad and ensure their passion for their daughter's success came through healthily, a lesson Stackhouse strives to pass down to the next generation of parents.
"You can't make your 15-year-old Annika Sorenstam," Stackhouse said, "but you can certainly make your 15-year-old hang up a club forever.”
Stackhouse also advises young girls regarding the college recruitment process and factors they must consider before selecting a university.
"That's such an important and pivotal decision," Stackhouse said, “it really sets up the trajectory of their careers because programs can lift you up or stifle you."
Lending her name to the tournament lets Stackhouse live her, "You cannot be what you cannot believe” mantra. She’s in a position to inspire the all-girl 72-player field as a four-time AJGA winner, a professional golfer, and the only black player on the LPGA and the eighth ever in the tour’s 72-year history.
“One of the little girls told me I’m really excited to see you here,” Stackhouse explained, “a black professional golfer, and you’re one of my favorite golfers on tour. She was very honest and open about seeing me and the fact that I feel like a reflection of herself, and that's incredibly important. I don’t think that can be understated enough.”
* * * * *
About The Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational
Representatives from six countries and 14 U.S. states (34 from California) are set to compete in one of the AJGA’s annual top girls fields, featuring 24 of the top-50 girls in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. Of the 72 girls competing, 49 players have previously won an AJGA event. 21 players have verbally committed to play college golf and 22 juniors are Rolex Junior All-Americans.
About the Course
The Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational will mark the sixth time Stanford Golf Course has hosted the AJGA. Previous events include the 1993 Canon Cup (now known as the Wyndham Cup), the 2019 Swinging Skirts AJGA Invitational, the 2020 AJGA Girls Invitational at Stanford, the 2021 AJGA Junior All-Star at Stanford, and the 2021 Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational. Stanford Golf Course, designed by George C. Thomas and Billy Bell Jr., opened in 1930 and is owned and operated by Stanford University. In 2015, Golfweek rated Stanford the No. 6 college course in the country.
AJGA Champion Highlights
Kiara Romero of San Jose, Calif.
, is No. 5 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. Romero is a two-time Second Team All-American and is verbally committed to the University of Oregon. The 2023 grad won the 2021 Polo Golf Junior Classic at Liberty National and had four top-10 finishes at AJGA events in 2021.
Karen Tsuru of Carlsbad, Calif.
, is No. 8 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. The 2023 grad won the 2021 AJGA Lake Las Vegas Junior and was T2 at the 2021 Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational. Tsuru was a 2021 First Team All-American and has seven top-10 career finishes at AJGA tournaments.
Michelle Liu of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
, is No. 9 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. As the reigning champion of the 2021 Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational, she is returning with the hopes of going back-to-back. The 2024 grad was a 2021 First Team All-American and also won the 2021 UHY St. Louis Junior.
Formally AJGA Girls Championship at The Furman Golf Club (2009-2020). In 2021, changed to the Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational.
Notable Past Champs
Casey Weidenfeld (2020)
Amanda Sambach (2019)
Lauren Stephenson (2014)
Karen Chung (2009,2010)
Casey Weidenfeld 64 (-8)
Casey Weidenfeld 69-72-64—205 (-11), Michelle Liu 66-67-69—202 (-11)