GRANITEVILLE, S.C. — Last year the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley featured a pair of playoffs to decide the boys and girls titles. The theme of this year’s event was wire-to-wire winners.
Aldrich Potgieter and Anna Davis were out in front all week at the nation’s top junior tournament and will leave the pristine club among the South Carolina pines with the trophies and the event’s signature gold jackets. Each player held a five-shot lead entering Saturday’s final round and won in impressive fashion.
“I went into the week wanting to win, thinking I was gonna win,” said Davis after the final round. “I’ve always had high expectations for myself.”
Nika Ito, who finished solo second, holed out from the fairway for eagle on the 17th hole to put the pressure on Davis, who was keeping tabs on the leaderboard all afternoon.
“That’s my second time getting holed-out on having the lead, so I was used to it and thought, ‘Okay, it’s fine. It happens,’” said Davis. “When you’re in that position, you kind of have to expect that stuff to happen so it doesn’t catch you off guard.”
Davis responded by hitting a “pretty bad second shot” that narrowly avoided the water guarding the 17th green.
“I had room because I’m left-handed. If I was right-handed, I would have been standing in the water,” explained Davis. From there the rising star followed Ito’s lead and chipped in to stop the momentum swing.
Davis, an Auburn commit, turned 17 on Friday and celebrated her birthday by walking in the winning putt from just off the 18th green with some serious swagger to finish at 7 under for the tournament.
“Kind of a douche bag move,” she said with a chuckle after the round. “Right off the putter face I thought, ‘that has to be in,’ so I walked it in.”
Wire-to-wire winner will ride some momentum down the road to Augusta National in a couple weeks. pic.twitter.com/R0qt609wbW
— Adam Woodard (@AdamWoodard) March 18, 2023
Ito finished two shots back at 5 under, with Kiara Romero in third at even par after firing the day’s low round of 5-under 67.
Next up for Davis is her title defense in two weeks at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where she’ll enter with even more pressure and expectations after her win in 2022.
“I think it just it helps like knowing that I can play in this area,” Davis said of the momentum she’ll take to her ANWA title defense. “Augusta and Champions Retreat are very similar to this course. I think just being able to play this kind of golf, being comfortable and being familiar with the area is always very helpful. So I think that just adds on to my win last year.”
Potgieter, the defending British Amateur champion, made eight birdies to win by a whopping 10 shots to set a record for the largest margin of victory in tournament history. The South African fired rounds of 65-70-68 to finish at 13 under for the week. Lee Byungho and Aaron Pounds finished T-2 at 3 under, with Eric Lee in fourth at 1 under and Preston Stout in fifth at even par.
“Yeah, it was awesome week, I really enjoyed it,” Potgieter said of his Junior Invitational debut and win. “Today was good a round. I struggled for a stretch, the par-5 fourth I missed a five-footer or something for birdie and then missed one on five. So that was kind of a disappointing break, but I knew that the back nine had a lot of opportunities and still having to play three par fives, I was still confident enough to put a good score on the board.
These kids are damn good.
— Adam Woodard (@AdamWoodard) March 18, 2023
“I always run back to what Tiger Woods said, you don’t come to a tournament not to win. I came to kind of prepare for the Masters and getting the win here just gives me more confidence going into that,” added Potgieter. “I think this golf course is pretty similar to Augusta National, so I’m taking this as a learning curve to that course and if I play like this week, I think I’ll do pretty good.”
Potgieter was pleasantly surprised that the rest of the boys field struggled to score while he was under par each day this week.
“Most of the guys were just kind of pissed at me because I was hitting it 50 yards passed everyone,” he jokingly said with a laugh, “so I guess that makes the golf course a little bit easier, carrying all the bunkers and getting in play still.”
As the British Amateur champion, Potgieter earned an spot in the field for the 2023 Masters and will join Davis at Augusta National in two weeks time.