Media contact: Jeff Shain
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (Jan. 2, 2023) — Anna Davis can’t help but chuckle whenever she’s at a golf tournament and someone asks if they can get a photo with her.
“It’s so funny to think about,” the California teen said. “A year ago, it was nothing like that.”
Then again, a year ago Davis didn’t own any hardware from Augusta National.
Davis, who last spring surprised her elders by capturing the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, finds herself viewed in a different light this week as she returns to historic Biltmore Golf Club with eyes set on adding the Junior Orange Bowl International trophy to her collection.
“I just really liked the environment and atmosphere here last year,” said Davis, who placed second in last year’s edition behind Colombia’s Maria Jose Marin.
Davis parlayed her Augusta triumph into seven LPGA exemptions last year, including three major championships. It’d be hard to find anyone in Junior Orange Bowl annals who comes into the event with that much big-stage savvy.
The girls’ lineup, though, finds one potential challenger who traveled down a similar path to Davis last year — Belgium’s Savannah De Bock, who also defeated older rivals to win last summer’s European Ladies’ Amateur.
“I’m really excited to play with (Davis) in this tournament and see what happens,” said De Bock.
The centerpiece of the boys’ field is Miami’s Nicholas Prieto, whose win last year ended a 21-year drought since the Junior Orange Bowl crowned a homegrown winner. Now he seeks even more rarefied air — to become the first multiple boys’ champion in the event’s 59-year history.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it,” said Prieto, whose 6-under-par 65 on last year’s final day allowed him to overcome a four-shot deficit. “There’s a lot of good players in this field, a lot of players I don’t know because it’s international.”
Five others among last year’s top 10 boys’ finishers are back in hopes of becoming the 59th different boys’ champion in as many years. That includes fellow South Floridian Jay Brooks (Boca Raton), looking for a better finish after being overtaken by Prieto in last year’s finale.
The field also features Paraguay’s Franco Fernandez, the South American Junior champion, along with Caribbean Junior champion Kelvin Hernandez of Puerto Rico.
In all, 53 boys and 36 girls are set to tee it up Tuesday. All seek to join a list of Junior Orange Bowl champions that includes Tiger Woods (1991), LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park (2002), LPGA major winners Lexi Thompson (2009) and Brooke Henderson (2013) and recent PGA Tour winners Joaquin Niemann (2014) and Kevin Na (2000).
“A lot of great history, a lot of great players,” said Prieto, a homeschool student who lives 20 minutes from The Biltmore.
“It’s also here in my hometown, pretty close to home, which is nice. I get to stay home all week. Everything’s set up to make a good run at (repeating).”
Prieto’s 65 last year was the best final round by a winner since 2008. He hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation, allowing him to go bogey-free when it counted most.
“This is a course where you need to make a lot of birdies,” he said. “It kind of depends on the wind, but your ballstriking has to be there. Your putting has to be there. You need a lot on this course to go right.”
Davis tried to chase down Marin with a closing 67 last year, one of just two girls to post a final round in the 60s. But the Colombian’s record 63 from one day earlier proved too much for anyone to overcome.
“Just being in contention was a lot of fun,” said Davis, who followed up her Junior Orange Bowl performance with top-3 finishes at the prestigious Annika Invitational and Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
Then came Augusta. As one of the youngest entrants in the field, Davis ended Round 1 tied for the lead, then slipped two off the pace heading to a final round at the Masters’ hallowed home. A 3-under-par 69 made her the unlikely champion.
“I knew I was an underdog in the field,” Davis said. “My goal was to just have fun, and I think it really paid off. I was at ease almost the entire tournament.”
From there, Davis spent the summer getting a taste of the LPGA circuit. She made the cut in five of her seven exemptions, only falling short in two majors.
“One of my goals last year was to play in an LPGA event, so to be able to play in seven was pretty cool,” Davis said. “To be able to play with some of the best players in the world and be able to talk to them and have them give me advice was special.”
She teed it up in tournament rounds with Thompson, along with reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee. Among her practice round partners were current LPGA Player of the Year Lydia Ko, plus Nelly and Jessica Korda.
“The main thing I learned is the mental game is so tough,” Davis said. “Going up against the best players in the world can take a toll on you mentally.”
There’s a mental aspect, too, now when she enters a junior event.
“People expect you to win, but I can’t look at it that way,” said Davis. “In my head, just because I won one tournament doesn’t mean I’m going to win them all.”
This year’s field brings together entrants from such diverse locales as Ukraine, Paraguay, Finland, Hong Kong, Poland, Zimbabwe, Serbia, Peru, Iceland, Hungary and Haiti.
Live scoring can be found all week at JuniorOrangeBowl.org/what-we-do/sports/golf.
The Golf Championship is one of 10 athletic, artistic and cultural events that make up the Junior Orange Bowl International Youth Festival, which celebrates its 74th anniversary in 2022-23. The festival draws more than 7,500 youth participants to South Florida’s community each year.
For more information on the Golf Championship or other Junior Orange Bowl activities, visit JuniorOrangeBowl.org.