George Cunningham won the American Junior Golf Association tournament Thursday at Centennial Golf Club.
He set a course record in the process, shooting 64 from the back tees.
What could the 15-year-old possibly do for an encore?
No, really, stay tuned, for you might see him on TV soon.
After accepting his trophy and taking a few photos with other placers, the Litchfield Park, Ariz., boy, who has yet to step foot in high school — he'll be a freshman — was off to compete in the U.S. Amateur. Not the Junior Amateur. The big one.
Cunningham was second in U.S. Am qualifying at his home course, Wigwam Golf Resort, and will tee it up Monday in the first round at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
Clearly, youth golf is progressing nicely.
At Centennial, Cunningham won the Boys Division, for ages 12-18, with a 17-under-par 199 over 54 holes. He had a three-shot lead over Jake Knapp, of Costa Mesa, Calif., to begin the day, and pulled away with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the back.
Cunningham has a share of the course record at his home course, but this is the first he's held outright.
"It feels really good," he said. "I'm really happy now, really excited."
Knapp, 16, was the first-round leader with a 66, and he matched that score in the final round, finishing five shots behind Cunningham with a 204.
Kevin Murphy, of Rogue River, shot a 1-under 71 and placed 16th. Medford's Dylan Wu shot 74 and tied for 30th. Klamath Falls' Seth Reynolds tied for 33rd, making 76 on Day 3.
In the Girls Division, overnight leader Jennifer Ha, of Alberta, Calgary, cruised to a four-shot win over Jennifer Yang, of Coquitlam, British Columbia. Ha closed with a 73, while Yang came on strong with a 68.
Monica Vaughn, of Reedsport, shot 73 and tied for 15th place.
Cunningham's strategy entering the final round was to pretend he wasn't in the lead.
"I tried to think I'm not ahead by three strokes," he said, "so I don't protect my lead or anything and just play like I'm chasing somebody, trying to still make birdies. I felt very comfortable. I wasn't nervous much at all."
He managed to build his lead over Knapp to four shots with three birdies on the front nine, then bumped it to six shots at the par-4 12th, when he made birdie and Knapp bogeyed.
The latter, however, got the two shots back on the next hole when he drove the 306-yard par 4 and one-putted for eagle.
"We were tied almost the whole day," said Cunningham. "The back nine, I had a few more birdies."
Five, to be exact. And when he made them at Nos. 14 and 15, it was as if he put a boot to the hosel of his competitors.
"At that point, I've gotta think it's mine," said Cunningham, who was 7 under on his round and led Knapp by six shots with three holes left. "But I've gotta shoot for the course record. I knew it was right around that."
He thought the record was 66, but the mark was 65, set a month ago by Doug Quinones, who will be a junior on the Kansas golf team this year.
Cunningham found a fairway bunker on the par-5 16th and muscled it out, leaving 185 yards to the green. He hit long but got up and down for par.
Still on pace to tie the record, he stuffed his tee shot on the par-3 17th. It was so close, he joked with Knapp, "Do I have to putt it?"
He made the tap-in birdie to get to 8 under, then narrowly skimmed the edge with a tough 20-footer on No. 18 that would have further lowered the record.
"I thought I made it," he said.
Now it's off to the U.S. Amateur, which begins with two rounds of stroke-play qualifying, followed by match play.
Last year, Byeong-Hun An, two years Cunningham's senior at 17, became the youngest winner in the 109-year history of the tournament.
"I'm excited to see how I can compete next week," said Cunningham. "Making it to match play is the main goal for me."
Murphy, with three straight birdies early in the round, was in position to shoot 32 on the front, but a three-putt bogey from 20 feet at No. 9 left him 2 under on the front.
"That was kind of frustrating, and I missed a 1-foot putt on 13," he said. "I didn't really make anything coming back.
"This was great. I wish I would have played better the first two days, but I had some mistakes that cost me pretty big. Other than that, it was fun. There are a lot of good players out here."
Like Cunningham, Ha had a three-shot lead to start the day. It dwindled to two after a double bogey at the 10th, but she played the last eight holes in 2 under to preserve victory in her first AJGA event.
"I was really nervous, but it was a good nervous," she said of sleeping on the lead. "It was like the night before Christmas. It was that much fun. I was trying to get over being nervous, but I don't think that really happened until the last putt."
She tapped in for par at 18.
The tournament was the first AJGA event in Oregon since 2006 and was one of 85 this year nationwide.
AJGA Junior Tournament
At Centennial Golf Club
Boys Yardage: 7,164. Par: 72.
Girls Yardage: 6,086. Par: 72.
1. George Cunningham, Litchfield Park, Ariz., 69-66-64—199, -17.
2. Jake Knapp, Costa Mesa, Calif., 66-72-66—204, -12.
3. Tye Gabriel, Portland, 70-69-68—207, -9.
4. David Kim, Manhattan Beach, Calif., 72-69-69—210, -6.
4. John Lee, Los Alamitos, Calif., 71-68-71—210, -6.
6. Preston Wtulich, Rancho Murieta, Calif., 70-70-71—211, -5.
7. Andrew Buchanan, Los Altos Hills, Calif., 68-73-71—212, -4.
8. Justin Chu, Honolulu, Hawaii, 68-72-74—214, -2.
9. Kevin DeHuff, Coto de Caza, Calif., 72-69-74—215, -1.
9. Skyler Finnell, Carmel, Calif., 73-73-69—215, -1.
11. Prem Samritpricha, Bradenton, Fla., 77-68-71—216, E.
12. Kraig McLeod, Pebble Beach, Calif., 72-72-73—217, +1.
12. Marshall Roenigk, Reno, Nev., 77-68-72—217, +1.
12. Andrew Sirowy, Antioch, Calif., 72-74-71—217, +1.
12. Danny Ochoa, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., 76-71-70—217, +1.
16. Kevin Murphy, Rogue River, 73-74-71—218, +2.
30. Dylan Wu, Medford, 73-76-74—223, +7.
33. Seth Reynolds, Klamath Falls, 71-77-76—224, +8.
1. Jennifer Ha, Calgary, Alberta, 69-67-73—209, -7.
2. Jennifer Yang, Coquitlam, British Columbia, 73-72-68—213, -3.
3. Esther Lee, Los Alamitos, Calif., 74-71-69—214, -2.
3. Ciera Min, Hilo, Hawaii, 68-71-75—214, -2.
3. Amy Lee, Brea, Calif., 72-72-70—214, -2.
6. Morgan Thompson, Tualatin, 75-70-70—215, -1.
7. Samantha Moyal, Alameda, Calif., 75-74-69—218, +2.
7. Catherina Li, Kent, Wash., 69-75-74—218, +2.
9. Betty Chen, Castro Valley, Calif., 73-76-71—220, +4.
9. Alexis Keating, Elma, Wash., 72-77-71—220, +4.
9. Elisabeth Bernabe, Anaheim Hills, Calif., 78-70-72—220, +4.
12. Kimberly Santiago, Lynnwood, Wash., 76-73-72—221, +5.
12. Sierra Bezdicek, Colbert, Wash., 76-73-72—221, +5.
12. Hannah Suh, San Jose, Calif., 74-73-74—221, +5.
15. Kendall Prince, Lake Oswego, 75-74-75—224, +8.
15. Katie Lee, Silverdale, Wash., 76-74-74—224, +8.
15. Monica Vaughn, Reedsport, 77-74-73—224, +8.
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