Trio shares medalist honors at U.S. Junior Amateur
Jim Liu
Jim Liu

STRATHAM, N.H. – The 2010 champion, Jim Liu, 16, of Smithtown, N.Y., Shintaro Ban, 16, of San Jose, Calif., and Nicolas Echavarria, 17, of Colombia, completed 36 holes at 3-under-par141 on Tuesday to share stroke-play medalist honors at the U.S. Junior Amateur at the 7,125-yard, par-72 Golf Club of New England.

Carter Jenkins, 17, of Raleigh, N.C., Andrew Bonner, 17, of Ripon, Calif., and Zechen Dou of the Peoples Republic of China finished one stroke behind at 2-under par 142.

Liu, the only past champion in the field, birdied five of the first eight holes on his way to a 71. In 2010 his victory as a 14-year-old broke a record set by Tiger Woods as the youngest Junior Amateur champion in history.

Today, Liu is two inches taller, 15 pounds heavier and 15 yards longer off the tee.

“I manage my game better,” said Liu. “I went through a couple of swing changes this fall, trying to tighten my swing, and it’s not as long and lazy as it was when I won.”

Liu’s birdie barrage ended on the ninth hole, when his tee shot hit a cart path and bounded into the woods. He punched out but some loose shots ended in a double-bogey 6 on the hole. He stumbled to another double bogey on the 13th hole after his 5-wood layup shot bounced into a lateral water hazard.

Despite the mishaps, Liu was positive about his chances in the match-play rounds, which start on Wednesday.

“All the pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall together,” Liu said.

Echavarria, a semifinalist in 2011, managed three birdies on the first nine and bogeyed the seventh and 11th holes on his way to a 71.

“I was starting to roll it pretty good and on three and four, my birdie putts were less than three feet,” Echavarria said. “Being co-medalist was really big for me because it gives me a lot to use in match play.”

An all-around athlete, Echavarria has been living in Bradenton, Fla., where he attends the Leadbetter Golf Academy. In the 2011 Junior Amateur, Echavarria lost in the semifinals to Chelso Barrett of Keene, N.H.

Barrett, a local favorite in this championship, missed qualifying by one stroke after finishing at 10 over par. The cut came at 9-over-par 153. Seven players will play off for one match-play spot at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.

Ban is playing in his first USGA championship but has vast match-play experience. Ban defeated Bonner in the 2012 Ripon Match Play tournament in northern California and has enjoyed success in other match-play events.

“For match play, what I do is kind of study my opponent for the first three holes and just see how they do and try to compete with that,” said Ban, an incoming high school senior. “I also play my game, hit fairways and greens and just two-putt. I learned that at home.”

Ban birdied four of his first seven holes on putts ranging from 3 to 30 feet and added a birdie at the 14th before making bogeys at the 15th and 18th holes.

“Shooting under par is all I ever asked for,” Ban said, “especially in a USGA event.”

Beau Hossler of Mission Viejo, Calif., had a five-birdie performance and a 71 for a 36-hole total of 148, four over par, after an opening 77. Putting problems have plagued the youngster who captured fans with his play at last month’s U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.

“This is really the worst putting tournament I’ve had in my junior golf career,” said Hossler, 17, a quarterfinalist last year when he earned medalist honors at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Wash.

In Tuesday’s second round Hossler returned to the “belly” putter he used for the U.S. Open, but blamed his reading of the greens for his putting woes. “I haven’t sniffed reading a green right so far,” he said.

The youngest qualifier in U.S. Open history, Andy Zhang, 14, of the Peoples Republic of China, also made the cut in the Junior Amateur when he finished at 7-over-par 151 (77-74). Zhang got into this year’s Open as an alternate when Paul Casey withdrew.

Matches begin on Wednesday and continue through Saturday, when a scheduled 36-hole match will decide the champion. The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association. Ten are strictly for amateurs.

ABOUT THE U.S. Junior Amateur

While it is not the oldest competition, the U.S. Junior Amateur is considered the premier junior competition, having been around since 1948. The event is open to male golfers who have not reached their 19th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 6.4. The U.S. Junior is one of 14 national championship conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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