Media contact: Jeff Shain
Full scoring: JuniorOrangeBowl.org/what-we-do/sports/golf
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (Jan. 3, 2023) — Remi Bacardi can only hope the blueprint that made Nicholas Prieto the Junior Orange Bowl International’s first homegrown champion in more than two decades has another year of shelf life.
“I’ve played this course so many times, I know it back and forth,” said the Miami golfer, who parlayed her knowledge of historic Biltmore Golf Club into a one-shot lead after Tuesday’sopening round of the tournament’s 59th edition.
Playing perhaps the steadiest round of anyone in Tuesday’s tropical breezes, Bacardi balanced two birdies and two bogeys against 14 pars to find herself atop the girls’ leaderboard following an even-par 71.
That left her one stroke clear of perhaps the biggest name gracing this week’s field — Anna Davis, the current Augusta National Women’s Amateur titleholder.
“I’m pretty surprised,” Bacardi said. “I thought there would be somebody at 4-under or 3-under.”
There were a few more fireworks coming from the boys’ division, as Sweden’s Vincent Stjernfeldt sizzled early — two eagles in his first four holes — and Puerto Rico’s Kelvin Hernandez went on a late birdie binge to share the lead after 6-under-par 65s.
“This is a prestigious tournament, so being up there is really nice,” said Hernandez, the reigning Caribbean Amateur champion whose late rise came via four birdies to complete his round. “Having a little bit of a lead heading into the next couple of days is nice.”
Stjernfeldt, making his Junior Orange Bowl debut, quickly got to red numbers with an eagle at the accessible par-5 opening hole. What happened three holes later is what made the day distinctive — hearing the rattle of a slam dunk from 170 yards away.
“I had a feeling that it was going to be a good day,” the Swedish golfer quipped.
Tuesday’s breezy conditions helped offset a warm day in the tropics, with temperatures topping 80 degrees and perhaps slowing Tuesday’s pace of play.
“I might stop by the pool first,” Davis quipped when asked if she planned a trip to the Biltmore’s practice green to home the putting that left her a bit perplexed.
Bacardi feels plenty comfortable around the historic Donald Ross layout, living just 15 minutes away and playing a number of high school matches there. That’s not unlike what lifted Prieto to the boys’ title a year ago.
“I think it gives me a pretty good advantage,” Bacardi said, pointing out that she’s played the course both from the forward tees in high school competition and from the tips in regular rounds. “If I get into trouble, I know how to get out of it.”
That’s what happened at No. 5, where she drove into a cluster of trees and had to punch out for her second shot. But she played a nice wedge into the green and made the par-saving putt.
Davis hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation on Tuesday, but struggled to find the proper line on The Biltmore’s Bermuda greens.
“I’m just not used to the grainy greens,” Davis said. “We don’t have that in San Diego.”
Putting is what both Stjernfeldt and Hernandez credited for their 65s that put some distance between themselves and the rest of the boys’ division on Tuesday. Four shots separate them from a quartet of their closest pursuers.
“I’m not too surprised,” said Cayden Pope (Lexington, Ky.), among those at the front of the chase pack after 2-under 69s.
“I always thought it was a fairly scorable golf course. You have the wind, some (challenging) pins, but you make a few putts out here, you can get it going.”
Stjernfeldt needed just nine putts through his first 10 holes, adding birdies at Nos. 9 and 10 to get to 6-under.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when one of those holes requires zero putts.
Hitting 3-wood off the tee to avoid a fairway bunker, the Swede watched his low-trajectory shot drift too far right. Facing 120 yards to a back right pin, he tried to position his wedge just left of the flagstick.
Instead, it went right at it.
“I heard it slam against the pin,” said Stjernfeldt, who acknowledged he wasn’t striking the ball as well as his score indicated. Nevertheless, he bogeyed just once against the two eagles and three birdies.
Hernandez, meantime, heated up fairly quickly after missing a short birdie opportunity at the par-5 first. He made a 6-foot downhill par save at No. 2, then finally notched his first birdie with a 10-footer at the par-4 fifth.
“So then I thought, ‘OK, maybe my putting is actually good,’” Hernandez said. “Then I was on fire the rest of the day.”
Even so, Hernandez found himself four shots off the pace until the final four-hole stretch. His best hole of the day came at No. 17, where he bored a 205-yard approach into the wind and saw it come to rest 3 feet from the pin.
Hong Kong’s Austin Mak might have joined Hernandez and Stjernfeldt near the top, but encountered a roller-coaster final stretch. He made triple bogey at the par-5 15th, bogeyed the 16th — then made up two of those shots by pitching in for eagle at No. 18.
The Junior Orange Bowl International’s history features such champions as 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).
This year’s field brings together entrants from such divergent locales as Ukraine, Paraguay, Finland, Hong Kong, Poland, Zimbabwe, Serbia, Iceland, Hungary, Haiti and the Cayman Islands.
Live scoring and other tournament information can be found 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.
BOYS TOP 5
t1. Vincent Stjernfeldt, Sweden 32-33=65 (-6)
t1. Kelvin Hernandez, Puerto Rico 32-33=65 (-6)
t3. Cayden Pope, Lexington, Ky. 32-37=69 (-2)
t3. Austin Mak, Hong Kong 31-38=69 (-2)
t3. Marco Florioli, Italy 34-35=69 (-2)
t3. Filippo Ponzano, Italy 33-36=69 (-2)
GIRLS TOP 5
1. Remi Bacardi, Miami 36-35=71 (E)
2. Anna Davis, Spring Valley, Calif. 36-36=72 (+1)
t3. Kayla Bryant, Boca Raton, Fla. 37-36=73 (+2)
t3. Savannah De Bock, Belgium 35-38=73 (+2)
t3. Lynn Van der Sluijs, Netherlands 36-37=73 (+2)
t3. Sophie Lauture, Concord, N.C. 37-36=73 (+2)