Clara Ding and Pennson Badgett win the Ralph Lauren Junior Classic
Clara Ding (left) and Pennson Badgett (AJGA Photo)
Clara Ding (left) and Pennson Badgett (AJGA Photo)

Clara Ding of White Rock, British Columbia, Canada, and Pennson Badgett of Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, win the 46th RLX Ralph Lauren Junior Classic at Bethpage Black. Ding and Badgett join a historic list of past RLX Ralph Lauren Junior Classic Champions, including Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman, Brian Harman, Morgan Hoffman, Matthew NeSmith, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Ariya Jutanugarn, and Sierra Brooks.

The field of 64 juniors, 32 boys and 32 girls, was comprised of 29 college commitments, 54 AJGA champions, and 29 Rolex Junior All-Americans. The invitational featured seven boys and six girls ranked within the top 25 of the Rolex AJGA Rankings.

Wheaton Ennis of Litchfield Park, Arizona, currently ranked No. 4 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings, entered as the No. 1 seed on the boys' side, while Jasmine Koo of Cerritos, California, ranked No. 3 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings, earned top seed honors in the girls' division.

The RLX Ralph Lauren Junior Classic returned to historic Bethpage State Park—Black Course for its 46th year. The invitational has occurred annually since 1978 and is the second-longest-standing AJGA event. Over the years, it has been held at prominent golf courses, including Liberty National Golf Club, PGA National Resort and Spa—Champion & Fazio Courses, Sea Island Golf Club, Innisbrook Resort, and Echo Lake Country Club.

Ding was the youngest player in the field and won 3&2 over Kinsley Ni of Los Angeles, California, in the Girl's Division championship match. Ni earned a win on the first hole, but Ding caught up by winning No. 2 to take the match to all square.

Ding proceeded to win Nos. 3 and 5 to go 2-up in the match. She proceeded to win No. 8, but Ni closed the gap by winning No. 7 and No. 9. Ding made the turn 1-up. Ni found herself winless on the back nine and after wins on No. 13 and No. 14, Ding ended the match 3&2 on No. 16.

"I was thinking that whatever happens today is just a bonus. I need to do the best I can, and the result doesn't matter," Clara Ding said. 

Ding earned two points during pool play, which advanced her to the elimination bracket. She then won the quarterfinals by 4 and 3 and won the semifinals in 19 holes.

Ranked at No. 70 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings, this is her first AJGA invitational win and her second AJGA victory overall.

"The course is really tough...I was already playing really well, but I was just trying to play even better," Ding said. 

Badgett won 4&2 over Mason Howell of Thomasville, Georgia. Howell won the first hole of the day but lost hole Nos. 6 and 9 to go one down at the turn. Badgett won four holes and lost one hole on the back nine en route to an early ending on No. 16.

"Winning this tournament is pretty special, I've had a lot of support back home. This is my first match-play tournament, so to come out on top is really special to me," Badgett said. 

Badgett claimed his spot in bracket play by winning group play. During the quarterfinals, he stayed strong for 19 holes after playing against the number one seed, Wheaton Ennis. He advanced to the finals by winning 4&3. This is Badgett's third overall AJGA victory and his first AJGA invitational win.

The RLX Ralph Lauren Junior Classic is the only true match play format event on the AJGA schedule. All but two years of the 45-year history have been played as match play.

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ABOUT THE Polo Junior Classic

Sixty-four top junior golfers will be invited to compete in a round-robin style match play event. Based on the Rolex AJGA Rankings, an equal field of 32 boys (Polo Division) and 32 girls (Liberty Division) will be divided into eight groupings of four players each to compete in three guaranteed singles matches. The top eight Polo Division boys and Liberty Division girls from each group after pool play will advance to single- elimination matches.

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