Pinehurst, NC – Live from Pinehurst, NC home to the US Kids World Championships. 2015 marks the 10th year that US Kids have overtaken the golf mecca and called it their own. It’s a magical place for these kids where over 1500 junior players from around the World gather to settle who is the best in the World. This promises to be a hotly contested match amongst some of the top 5 from the 2014 Girls 7u finish. Notably missing from the field is Maye Huang out of Houston, TX but other top 5 finishers from 2014 in attendance are Chloe Kovelesky, Avery Zweig, Avani Preshanth and Natalie Yen. Both 8u and 9u girls will play at Longleaf Country Club; recently acquired by US Kids Golf and projected to be the “hub” of activity for years to come.
Day 1 is always an important day for all because as the saying goes, “You can’t win the tournament on the first day, but you certainly can lose it.” Battling nerves, anticipation and a sea of emotions built up from a year of training can sometimes get the best of a young competitor. So lets get to the action. Chloe Kovelesky, reigning 7u Champion is known for her quick starts in Championship play seem to be her modus operandi and a successful one. Just like at IMG World Championships, Kovelesky jumped out to a commanding lead with a day 1 total of -4 under par 32. Highlighted by a “chip in” eagle on the 3rd hole, Kovelesky was her usual brilliant self on day 1 sprinting out to a 3 shot lead over the field. Also worth noting that nary a bogey was to be found on Kovelesky’s card on days 1 or 2! Coming in second was Mariana Rodriguez Chavez of Columbia with a -1 under par 35. Also tied for second after day 1 was Avery Zweig, a notorious slow starter in tournaments carding 2 bogeys and 3 birdies in round 1 with a -1 under par 35 as well. Grace Crawford sprinted out of the gates with a “birdie, birdie” start but cooled a bit. One has to wonder if the excessive heat, heat index of 105 degrees with NO wind had an effect on the Englander from across the pond!
Day 2 finds the players reshuffled in accordance with their previous days finish. The “feature group” for the 8u girls possesses the leader Chloe Kovelesky and the duo of Avery and Mariana each 3 shots back. They call day 2 “moving day” so it will be interesting to see who moves up or down throughout the day, jockeying for position in the final group on day 3. Getting into the day 2 action, Rodriguez Chavez drew first blood with a birdie on the third hole. Kovelesky and Zweig continued their pillow fight with the course and each other not carding a birdie OR a bogey for the first 4 holes. Kovelesky reached the 5th green in 2 and made her first birdie of the day. Zweig continued her snails pace after booming a 190yd drive on the aforementioned 5th hole yet came away with a par after missing the green with her approach shot. Both Zweig and Kovelesky would go on to birdie the par 5 7th hole. A big difference for the round and the outcome of the tournament was Zweig’s repeated difficulty on the 9th hole. for the second day in a row, Zweig found herself 30 yards from the center of the green and for the second time in a row, Zweig bladed her approach shot over the green. Does she like to live dangerously? Indeed. day 2 found her shot a mere 5 paces from the parking lot and OB stakes but she was tough, chipped it to 15 feet and narrowly missed her “par save” putt to finish with a bogey. One has to wonder if the bogey finish / bladed approach shot fiasco (on the 9th hole) 2 days in a row will be costly. Rodriguez Chavez would finish on an even more disappointing note with a bogey on 6 and a double bogey on the 9th hole to finish at 2 over par for the day. Kovelesky had yet another clean card with 2 birdies and a -2 under par 34 while Zweig continued her turtle-like pace and finished even par for the day.
Day 3 final round showed Kovelesky at a very stout -6 under par and leading by a healthy margin. This is a practice (sprinting out to large lead) sought after by many, mastered by only Kovelesky. Zweig finds herself yet again down 5 shots to the leader going into the final round. The prior two weeks she participated in the World Championship tournaments at IMG in (San Diego) and World Stars of Junior Golf (Las Vegas) which found Zweig 5 shots down going into the final round, yet in the final pairing. New to the group and tied for second at -1 under par was Avani Preshanth of India. Preshanth is also a noted strong finisher as she played her strongest golf in her final round in last years 7u world Championship. So the day 3 stage is set, lets get to some “in game” action. Hole 1 found Kovelesky and Zweig both hitting well positioned tee shots with short wedge shots into the green. Kovelesky struck first with a nicely positioned wedge to 5 and a half feet from the hole, directly below the hole. Zweig answered that shot with one of her own to 7 feet but she had a pretty sharply breaking putt from left to right so it was by no means a gimme. Zweig found herself putting first and she hit a very smooth roll (on the quite uneven and bumpy bent grass green playing surface) right into the center of the cup for birdie. Kovelesky had a seemingly straight roll at her birdie look but it bounced (up) right off the face and lipped out of the hole. Preshanth made par on the hole after missing the green which has her 5 shots down to Mighty Chloe and Zweig gaining one and trailing by 4 shots. Zweig had the honors going into he second hole and hit a nice pin high shot to 9 feet from the hole just right of the pin. Kovelesky calmly stepped up and hit it to 7 feet, again showing her marksman-like abilities with her irons and approach shots. Zweig would putt first and put an extremely good roll on her putt. However Zweig’s caddie after much deliberation convinced her to play it just outside the right edge of the hole, when right center inside the hole would have done the trick. So a tap in par for Zweig left Kovelesky with her 7 footer for birdie. She narrowly missed the 7 footer and Zweig had to have the feeling of “dodging a bullet” with Kovelesky firing it so close to each pin. Zweig boomed her drive straight on the 185 yd 3rd hole to 5 yards in front of the green followed by an outstanding long and low chip to 4 feet from the hole. Mighty Chloe had about a 40 yard pitch shot that she hit a bit past the pin to about 20 feet. She would go onto have a stress free tap in for par which left Zweig’s 4 footer for birdie to narrow the gap to 3 shots with 6 to play. Zweig calmly stepped up and holed her birdie in the center of the cup on the downhill putt and the margin between Zweig and the leader was now reduced to 3. 4th hole was an uneventful one with everyone in the group making a routine par. Onto the 5th hole they went with Zweig still having the tee box and she launched a solid drive on the 272yd par 5, down the middle of the fairway. Leaving a 78 yd PW from the hole and an eagle or birdie opportunity with a solid shot into the green. Zweig delivered (sort of) and left her shot below the hole to the pin which was on the severely sloped front of the green. She used her “putt with 8 iron” shot from 24 feet to get to 1 foot from the hole for a tap in birdie. Kovelesky did not have the same fortune and ended up with a par on the hole, allowing the lead to shrink to 2 shots over Zweig and it remained 5 over Preshanth. As the lead got narrower, the group found themselves with a decent gallery accumulating around them as they marched to the 6th hole. Zweig had the tee box and the 6th hole has an extremely soft and spongy fairway leading up to the green. The hole is short in length (175 yds) but plays much longer due to these conditions. The green is also excessively soft and this would result in all 3 players having lengthy birdie and then quite “testy” par save opportunities. Kovelesky was furthest out and left herself a 3.5 foot putt but no putts are a gimme on these very dicey greens. Zweig would follow with a 24 foot bending putt that narrowly missed going in the hole after hitting an impediment about 5 feet into her putt. The putt would end up at 4 feet past the hole, yet Zweig casually stepped up and made the putt barely in the right side of the hole. Kovelesky needed to hold serve with her putt and for the first and only time of the tournament, made a bogey. This reduced the deficit to 1 and 4 shots respectively for Zweig and Preshanth. Kovelesky’s caddie was overhead inquiring “are we ready to play some golf finally?” There must have been some magic in that statement as Kovelsky’s finest moments were still ahead of her. Zweig flared her drive way off to the right leaving a less than desirable lie for her approach shot. Kovelesky would smoke her longest drive of the tournament (about 220 yds) to 80 yds from the pin. An eagle or certainly a birdie was in her sights. Zweig, being ever so resilient hit a nice recovery shot out of the weeds and dust to about 36 feet from the pin. Kovelesky fired right at the pin and wound up about 25 feet past the pin, just off the back of the green. Zweig putted first and had a treacherous putt over the hill bending left to right pretty heavily. It was a tentative stroke, not wanting to roll it significantly past the hole but Zweig left it at 6 feet with ever so slight right to left break. Kovelesky rolled her putt aggressively to 1 foot for the tap in birdie, her first of the day but an important one. Preshanth in the meantime had a 60+ foot putt over a couple of small hills to almost jar it for an eagle but she settled for a tap in birdie. A mere 6 foot putt for Zweig would keep her within 1 shot of the leader but Zweig hit a decent, but passive roll at her putt and gently hit the lip and missed the putt to lose one stroke back to the leader. Onto the 8th hole, par 3 75yd hole where Kovelesky now owned the tee box. With the temperament of an assassin, she hit a great shot to 10 feet just below the hole for a very makable birdie attempt. Zweig was not to be outdone however, hit her own PW to 6 feet and the excitement was building as the group moved towards the green. Kovelesky hit her best putt of the day, a “no doubter” firmly in the center of the hole for a birdie. Doing what champions do, always forcing the best out of their opponents. At worst, she would now go to the 9th hole with a 2 shot lead or possibly 3 shots if Zweig could not convert. Zweig stepped up after carefully surveying the green and didn’t give her putt quite enough juice to get in the hole bending off to the left as it approached the hole. Mighty Chloe was just that… a MIGHTY force when the chips were down and she went and seized her opportunity. To the 9th hole they went, Kovelesky with a 3 shot lead over Zweig and a 5 shot lead over Preshanth. Kovelesky smoked another drive down the right side of the fairway and Zweig, seeking a different outcome on the 9th hole, hit her 3 wood with authority right down the middle free of obstruction and a clear path to the green. Kovelesky would hit her approach a little long while Zweig was VERY conservative in her attempt to get her shot in the middle of the green and no where near the parking lot where she nearly resided the previous two days! Zweig had a 36 foot putt which she attempted to lag near the hole and nearly made the putt for birdie, but it was too little too late as she tapped in for par. Mighty Chloe used her accuracy to smother out the competition and holed a 5 footer for par save and her second consecutive US Kids World Championship. It was a closely contested match but yet another chapter in what appears to be quite an interesting story about young and aspiring LPGA golfers.
US Kids Golf Founder Dan van Horn congratulates Avery on a job well done!
Final Leaderboard from PInehurst #2 at World Headquarters
Oh so close, hole by hole score breakdown
The Top 5 medalists on stage. From left to right: Chloe Kovelesky, Avery Zweig, Mariana Rodriguez Chavez, Avani Preshanth, Grace Crawford, Megan Ming and Suri Rocha. Great job girls!!!
Avery’s Meme and Papa sharing the hardware!
Avery and her caddie in a VERY lame imitation pose of Payne Stewarts statue
Number’s 1 and 2 in the World. Chloe Kovelesky and Avery.