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Centennial hosts top juniors for AJGA event

Josh Wu would like nothing better than to keep the shiny winner's trophy in his Medford golfing family.

Wu figures to be among the contenders in the fifth annual Bishops Gate Golf Academy Junior at Centennial Golf Club this week, a tournament his older brother, Dylan, won last year.

The tournament — which welcomed Bishops Gate as a title sponsor this year — is a decorated American Junior Golf Association event, having won the award as the organization's most improved tourney in 2012.

The 54-hole tournament is Tuesday through Thursday, with a 36-hole cut, and spectators are welcome. There is no admission charge. Tee times start at 7 a.m. and play continues throughout the day.

The AJGA is a national circuit for players ages 12-18. It has 108 tournaments in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, including 28 on the West Coast.

Dylan Wu became the second straight Rogue Valley player to win at Centennial last year when he shot a 7-under-par score of 209 over three days, winning by three strokes. The year before, Kevin Murphy of Rogue River triumphed with a 203.

Could Josh Wu be next in line?

"The local boys have defended the title for two years straight," he said, "and I'm just going into it with no expectations. But it would be great to keep that tradition going."

Josh Wu is one of a handful of local players who could make noise this week in the boys and girls divisions.

It won't be easy. The fields include six AJGA champions and 13 players who have committed to colleges.

Wu played well through the high school season and into the summer. As a sophomore, he helped St. Mary's win its fourth straight Class 3A/2A/1A state championship, placing third overall. Two weeks ago, he placed fifth in the AJGA PING Phoenix Junior, earning full exemption in association events for the next two years.

With that status, he can plan out a schedule of top events without having to qualify.

"It opens up a lot of doors," said the St. Mary's junior-to-be.

In Phoenix, Wu birdied five of his first eight holes in the third and final round to pull into a tie for first place, but double bogeys on two of his final three holes ended his challenge. He ended up 2 under for the tournament.

"I haven't been at the top for a while, so it was a little different and I kind of choked a little bit," he said. "But I think that's a good thing. If I'm in contention at Centennial, it won't be an out-of-body experience."

Wu is coming off a co-13th-place finish in the Peter Jacobsen Junior Challenge last week at Spring Hill Golf Club in Albany.

"It was not a good week," he said. "It exposed some weaknesses I can work on for (this) week."

He said his tempo was off and he didn't handle adversity as well as he'd like.

Wu will get another chance this week.

Last year, the AJGA Centennial had two tournaments within one: the All-Stars for ages 12-15 and the open division for advanced players.

Wu played in the All-Stars and shot even par for three days to tie for 19th place. It'll be a different animal in the open tourney this week, with a field of 110 players.

"It's a huge tournament," he said. "There's going to be a few really good players in there."

College coaches will be in attendance, including some pursuing Wu. Three Pac-12 schools — Oregon State, Arizona and Colorado — are among his suitors, he said.

"AJGA is always good for exposure for college coaches," he said.

Wu will find several familiar places in the field, notably his twin brother, Jeremy, and high school rivals Jake Quast and Max Davis, who helped Cascade Christian to second at state behind the Crusaders.

Matt Hedges of Ashland adds to the local flavor.

On the girls side, Medford's Kiana Oshiro, who made a successful debut in AJGA play last year at Centennial, and Central Point's Daniele Giles, who tied for fourth in the Peter Jacobsen, are in the 34-girl field.

In all, there are 12 Oregonians scheduled to compete. Eleven states and four foreign countries are represented.

"I think just from our past success, we've drawn some interest in it," said Vince Domenzain, Centennial general manager and director of golf. "Hopefully, it'll keep building and building. With Kevin Murphy and Dylan Wu winning back-to-back, and Kiana runner-up in the All-Stars, that made it nice and brought it more into light for local players.

"There are some pretty talented players in our area. A lot of it has to do with success breeding success. They can see what can be done with hard work and where they can take their game."

Jeremy Wu tied for 31st in the boys All-Stars last year.

Oshiro placed second in the All-Stars, and Giles tied for 10th.

Oshiro was 4 under after two days, including a 69 on Day 2, and wound up 3 under for the tournament.

This spring, as a freshman at North Medford, she was second in the Class 6A state tournament.

Out-of-area players to contend with in the boys division include Joshua Sedeno of Roseville, Calif.; Tate Tatom of Gallatin Gateway, Mont.; and Jake Chanen of Phoenix, Ariz.

Sedeno is the field's highest-rated player in the Polo rankings at No. 122 and has a pair of top five AJGA placings. Tatom tied for fifth here last year and this year won an AJGA event in Kansas. Chanen has an AJGA victory among two top-10s this year.

On the girls side, Beth Lillie of Fullerton, Calif., has seven top-15 career finishes in AJGA play, and Angela Liu of San Jose, Calif., only 14, already has eight top-10 AJGA placings and two wins.

Activity begins today with a qualifying tournament for players seeking to establish themselves on the AJGA. There's a junior-amateur fundraising tournament Monday morning, followed by practice rounds for the players and a free kids clinic at 2:30 p.m. at the Centennial practice facility.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Centennial hosts top juniors for AJGA event