Story courtesy of the Junior Orange Bowl
Darren Zhou (Florida State Golf Association Photo)
Kayla Bryant makes a concerted effort to keep her expectations in check, fond of punctuating her golf conversations with a half-shrug and “We’ll see what happens.”
Over four days at the Junior Orange Bowl International golf championships, the diminutive Boca Raton teen showed the high end of what’s possible.
As golfers battled the strongest winds of a blustery week, Bryant extended her bogey-free streak to 33 holes to put even more distance between her and her rivals Saturday, cruising to a five-shot triumph at historic Biltmore Golf Club.
“It’s surreal,” Bryant said after a 2-under-par 69 completed the largest girls’ margin of victory in six years. “It doesn’t even feel like I won, honestly. I just played well and I ended up winning.”
Darren Zhou produced a history of a different sort on the boys’ side, becoming the division’s youngest champion after a closing 67 vaulted him to a two-shot victory over South Africa’s Jack Buchanan.
“This is definitely my biggest win so far,” said Zhou, 13, a Hong Kong native who attends IMG Academy in Bradenton. “It’s just nice to win a big tournament because I didn’t do so well in the big ones last year.”
They now join a list of Junior Orange Bowl champions highlighted by Tiger Woods (1991), LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park (2002), LPGA major winners Lexi Thompson (2009) and Brooke Henderson (2013), resurgent PGA Tour winner Camilo Villegas (1999) and current Australian Open champion Joaquin Niemann (2014).
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Bryant, who finished third a year ago behind Anna Davis, then the Augusta National Women’s Amateur titleholder.
Now her name will be engraved right beneath Davis’s. As an added bonus, perhaps, she becomes the first girls’ champion since Thompson to call South Florida home.
“It’s awesome to be right next to all those legends,” added Bryant, who completed four windblown days at 6-under 278. “That’s crazy.”
Her South Florida roots may have played a significant role in the conditions, as winds grew gradually stronger each day. The girls’ division produced just six rounds in the 60s all week, with Bryant accounting for three.
One day earlier, Bryant went bogey-free in a 68 to take a three-shot lead into the final round. And she picked up right where she left off Saturday, even as an approaching storm front brought even stronger gusts above 30 mph.
“I’ve been practicing the past four weeks in these winds, especially with the multiple fronts that have been coming through,” said Bryant, born in Miami Beach before her family moved to Boca Raton when she was 5. View results for Junior Orange Bowl
It certainly seemed to negate any distance disadvantage Bryant may have had, often hitting longer clubs into the Biltmore greens.
“She was hitting her 3-wood closer than I was with my 8-iron, which was very humbling,” said Canada’s Vanessa Borovilos, who used two late birdies to grab a share of second alongside France’s Sara Brentcheneff.
Bryant used back-to-back birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 to widen her lead to five shots, then rattled off nine pars before a birdie at the par-5 15th. She stumbled a bit with consecutive bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17, but had plenty of cushion.
“It was fun to watch Kayla coming in,” said Borovilos. “She almost acts as if she doesn’t care where the ball goes. She’s not putting a lot of pressure on herself, and it works. She plays with a lot of freedom.”
Bryant’s five-shot margin of victory was the largest since England’s Lily May Humphries produced a nine-shot romp in the 2017 edition.
Zhou, two shots behind leader Zach Pelzar to start the day, played his front nine in 4-under 31 to leapfrog his competition. He birdied three of his first five holes, then added another at No. 7 when he holed out a flop shot.
“I was definitely thinking (this could be special),” said Zhou, who finished at 5-under 279. “I just kept telling myself, ‘One shot at a time,’ and not to worry about the end result.”
Zhou’s margin might have been bigger except for a double bogey at the par-4 13th, when he was stuck behind a tree and overcooked a slicing second shot. But he bounced back with a birdie at No. 14 and let his closest rivals fall away.
Buchanan lurked within a shot until the turn, when he bogeyed No. 12 after Zhou birdied in the group ahead. He signed for a 70 to close his first event on U.S. soil.
“I’m over the moon to finish second in my first time out in the United States,” said Buchanan, set to age out of the junior ranks later this month. “I’ve learned a lot that I can take back home.”
Pelzar also hung close until a string of three bogeys to start his back nine, saying he simply ran out of steam.
“I haven’t played a tournament in two months,” the Massachusetts native explained. “I kind of got lost at the end, but this was a great experience.”
Anna Abom turned in the best round of the week with a 7-under-par 64 Saturday. Starting on the Biltmore’s back nine, she made the turn in 31 on the strength of a five-hole stretch with three birdies and an eagle.
“I hadn’t played well in the last few days, but I felt I was close,” Abom said. Things finally fell into place.”
Her round was one shot off the girls’ division record, set by Colombia’s Maria Jose Marin in winning two years ago.
This year’s field brought together entrants from such diverse locales as Ukraine, Austria, Paraguay, Switzerland, Hungary, Zimbabwe, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago, Iceland, Turkey and Ghana.
ABOUT THE Junior Orange Bowl
72-hole invitation-only event. Players must
have reached their 19th birthday by the
the tournament and must not be
on a College/University team. The field is
limited to a maximum of 72 Boys and 42
representing US and Foreign
age categories and there is no cut during
Championship. Invitations are sent out in
September. The tournament's
alumni list includes
current professional players Tiger Woods,
and Lexi Thompson.
The golf tournament
just one of 15 competitions among The Junior
Bowl Festival. This volunteer-led, not-for-profit
organization hosts athletic, academic, and cultural
competitions that draw over 7,500 youth from
the State of Florida, across the United States, and
76 countries worldwide to compete. The annual
marquee event rounding out each festival season is
Junior Orange Bowl Parade, a community based
parade that travels through the historic streets of
Gables featuring high school and college marching
bands, floats and various youth and community
attracting over 35,000 families, friends, and
It dates back to 1948.
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