CORAL GABLES, Fla. (Jan. 5, 2023) — For many a Junior Orange Bowl International golfer coming from outside Florida, one of the toughest adjustments is getting used to the grainy greens seen in the region.
Marco Florioli tried a different remedy for that on Thursday.
“Think less and just play,” said Florioli, who mingled that philosophy with some strong iron play to surge past Puerto Rico’s Kelvin Hernandez and stand 18 holes away from becoming the Junior Orange Bowl’s second Italian boys’ champion in a four-year span.
Four birdies in his first six holes allowed Florioli to post a front-nine 30 at historic Biltmore Golf Club, finishing with a 6-under-par 65 that propelled him from a three-shot deficit to begin the day to a four-shot advantage over Hernandez and Jay Brooks (Boca Raton, Fla.).
“I just played really solid and made a lot of birdies,” said Florioli, whose 65 matched the best round of the week.
Anna Davis (Spring Valley, Calif.) used a 1-under-par 70 to maintain her three-shot advantage in the girls’ division, though a 68 from Belgium’s Savannah De Bock set up the possibility for a faceoff between the two highest profile golfers in the field.
Davis was the surprise winner of last year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur, parlaying the win into seven LPGA invitations and making the cut five times. De Bock is the reigning European Ladies Amateur champion, having also triumphed over older rivals.
“Anna is a great player, so I’m going to have to play my best golf tomorrow,” said De Bock, whose 68 stands as the week’s only bogey-free round. “I can’t say what’s going to happen, but if I make a lot of birdies, I have a chance.”
They’ll seek to join a Junior Orange Bowl International champions’ roster that features 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).
Though Thursday’s temperatures remained warm, gentler breezes created the most optimal scoring conditions yet for the Junior Orange Bowl’s 59th edition. Twelve boys broke par in Round 3, twice as many as the previous day.
“The course was certainly scorable today,” said Hernandez, the reigning Caribbean Junior and Caribbean Amateur champion who held at least a share of the lead after each of the first two days but slipped back with a 72.
Putting has been a primary source of discomfort, as players try to quickly learn the nuances of The Biltmore’s grainy Bermuda putting surfaces. Hernandez, for one, estimated he faced a half-dozen solid birdie chances but couldn’t find the range.
“I hit the ball good,” he said, “but for me it was putting.”
Not so for Florioli, who made the decision before Round 3 that less is better.
“You see the line and you play it,” he said after reaching the 54-hole checkpoint a 9-under 204. “You don’t think about anything else.”
It also helped that Florioli’s iron game was also giving him reasonable birdie chances. Of his eight birdies on Thursday, he said, none came from more than 20 feet.
Nor would it have taken much for his score to be lower — Florioli didn’t birdie any of The Biltmore’s trio of par-5s.
After failing to take advantage of the par-5 first hole, the Italian teen’s game kicked in. A “pure” tee shot at the par-3 second left to a 14-foot birdie, and he followed with a kick-in birdie at No. 4, a 20-footer at No. 5 and another birdie at No. 6.
“My ball was always close to the hole,” he said.
Florioli now seeks to become the Junior Orange Bowl’s fourth Italian champion, joining Andrea Romano (2019), Renato Paratore (2013) and Marco Durante (1979). He’s known Romano for several years, saying they’d occasionally practice together before Romano hit the pro circuit.
“This is a special tournament,” Florioli said. “It’s very important and prestigious, and this would be a great start to 2023.”
Brooks moved into a share of second alongside Hernandez after a Thursday 69, also joining Florioli as the only golfers to break par in all three rounds thus far.
Brooks now has a chance at redemption after running out of steam in last year’s final round, finishing second behind Miami’s Nicholas Prieto.
Though it’s hard to find much fault with Davis’ steady play and three-shot advantage, she’s still looking for a stretch that would bring birdies in bunches.
All three of the Californian’s birdies on Thursday came on The Biltmore’s par-5s, countered by a pair of bogeys.
“It wasn’t super exciting,” said Davis, who completed 54 holes at 2-under 211. “I’ve just kind of been leaving everything out there. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a run going.”
De Bock, meantime, credited her 68 to a string of par saves that kept her round bogey-free.
“Even though I didn’t hit as many greens as I wanted, I managed to get up-and-downs from everywhere,” the Belgian said. “I don’t think I missed any of them today. And I had three birdies, so that’s nice. I’m really happy with myself today.”
And how would De Bock approach trying to make up ground on Davis in the final 18?
“With a smile,” she said.
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
1. Marco Florioli, Italy 69-70-65=204 (-9)
t2. Kelvin Hernandez, Puerto Rico 65-71-72=208 (-5)
t2. Jay Brooks, Boca Raton, Fla. 70-69-69=208 (-5)
t4. Billy Davis, Spring Valley, Calif. 71-69-70=210 (-3)
t4. Cayden Pope, Lexington, Ky. 69-76-65=210 (-3)
t4. Filippo Ponzano, Italy 69-70-71=210 (-3)
t4. Vincent Stjernfeldt, Sweden 65-72-73=210 (-3)
t4. Hugo Trommetter, Morocco 70-68-72=210 (-3)
GIRLS TOP 5
1. Anna Davis, Spring Valley, Calif. 72-69-70=211 (-2)
2. Savannah De Bock, Belgium 73-73-68=214 (+1)
3. Kayla Bryant, Boca Raton, Fla. 73-71-74=218 (+5)
4. Remi Bacardi, Miami 71-73-75=219 (+6)
5. Michelle Xing, Canada 73-77-71=220 (+7)