JOHNSON, Ark. – Six birdies in the final round helped Anthony Paolucci of Del Mar, Calif., capture the 33rd annual Rolex Tournament of Champions to finish as the only player in the field under par at 1-under-par 287. Kristen Park of Buena Park, Calif., birdied the final two holes to win the Girls Division by four strokes at Blessings Golf Club.
Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the Rolex Tournament of Champions was a 72-hole stroke play event held at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson, Ark. The 132-player field boasted junior golfers from 28 states, Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and the Philippines. The Boys Division played the course at 7,119 yards while the Girls Division played at 6,133 yards.
Paolucci, winner of this year's Thunderbird International Junior, had an up-and-down day, but managed to stay in his comfort zone on a course where anything can happen. After four birdies and a double bogey on the front nine, he sat at 2-under-par, tied with Patrick Rodgers of Avon, Ind. Paolucci stayed cool, calm, and collected.
“At the turn Patrick and I were tied and he was playing solid, too,” Paolucci said. “I was very good at keeping a good frame of mind when things started to get tight. For some reason I did a very good job of staying in the moment.”
Paolucci tried not to think about winning throughout the round, but occasionally it snuck into his head.
“I tried not to think too much about winning the tournament, but the thought kept creeping back into my mind,” he said. “When I birdied No. 14 and had that good putt on No. 15, going to 3-under with three holes to go, I started to sense that I could win it. At the same time, anything can happen on this golf course and I knew that going in.”
Rodgers finished in second place, two shots behind Paolucci, with a four-day total of 1-over-par 289. In third place, David Lee of Houston, finished the tournament at 6-over-par 294. Shun Yat Hak of Lake Mary, Fla., and Drew Czuchry of Auburn, Ga., finished in a tie for fourth place at 7-over-par 295.
After leading at one point by six shots, Park bogeyed No. 16 while Emily Tubert of Burbank, Calif., made birdie to cut the lead to two shots. After a spectacular shot by Tubert on the par-3 No. 17 to within five feet, Park chipped in from the rough while Tubert missed her birdie attempt to extend the lead to three shots.
“I felt a little bit of pressure after my lead was cut to only two shots after No. 16,” Park said. “I managed to stay focused and holed out from the rough on No. 17 to increase my lead back to three with one hole to play. The birdie on No. 18 was just icing on the cake for one of the biggest junior wins I have ever had.”
On a very difficult course, Park felt well-prepared coming into the tournament.
“I have been preparing for this summer all year long,” Park said. “I feel very accomplished winning this tournament with all the great players in the field.”
Tubert, whose home course will be Blessings Golf Club for the next four years as a soon-to-be Arkansas Razorback, finished in second place four shots behind Park at 6-over-par 294. Marijosse Navarro of San Antonio, Texas, finished in third place with a tournament total of 8-over-par 296.
Rolex Tournament of Champions results