‘Host’ Coloradans post best finish at Girls Junior Americas Cup since 2013; Mexico sweeps team, individual titles at Hiwan
by Gary Baines
The Colorado representatives at the Girls Junior Americas Cup weren’t always happy with their golf games this week, but no one can say they didn’t go out on a high note Friday afternoon at Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen.
With Colorado hosting the GJAC for the first time in 18 years, Hailey Schalk of Erie capped the week for the local team by chipping in from 40 feet for birdie on No. 18, drawing cheers from the bystanders.
It didn’t make any difference in the team standings, but finishing like that definitely tends to leave a better taste in one’s mouth.
As it turned out, the team representing the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado posted its best finish at the GJAC in five years by placing fifth out of 18 squads from the western U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“It was a blast,” Lauren Lehigh of Loveland said of the week as a whole, including playing a team event in your home state. “I had a great time spending time with the team and the coaches and getting to meet girls from all over the place and getting to do it this close to home. Having home fans come out and cheering you on is really neat. It was a great experience.”
The Coloradans ended up at 46-over-par 676 total after posting a 17-over 227 on Friday at a formidable Hiwan layout. The last time Team Colorado placed higher than fifth was a third-place showing in 2013.
“I think fifth is good,” said Kelsey Webster of Boulder, who was playing in her final junior event before joining the University of Colorado golf team. “We’re excited to finish fifth. In golf you’re always looking to do better. This course has a way of making you feel like your game is not in a good spot. I think all four of us are walking away not super happy with how we played this week overall. But we have to take a step back and know we finished fifth out of 18 teams, which is pretty good.”
Webster (left) and Lehigh led the way individually for Colorado by tying for 14th place in the 72-player field. They both closed with 75s for 16-over-par 226 totals.
“A year ago I was to a point I was about to quit the game” because of issues with her game, Webster said. “I really turned it around and started feeling really good about my swing a couple of months ago. Of course, there’s some issues here and there. But I’m proud of myself for persevering through that. Finishing 14th out of 72, I’m proud of that and excited to see where I can take it.”
Schalk, a three-time GJAC participant, shared 21st place at 227 after the 18th-hole chip-in gave her a 77 on Friday. And Emma Bryant of Aurora, competing in her first GJAC, placed 48th at 240 after a final-round 85.
“We’re very proud of our team,” said Jennifer Cassell, who co-captained the Colorado squad with three-time CGA Women’s Stroke Play champion Melissa Martin (pictured below with Schalk). “The girls played very hard and with their hearts. This is a hard course and there were a lot of good competitors out there.”
Speaking of which …
Mexico won the GJAC team title for the eighth time in the last 22 years — this week by 11 strokes over two-time defending champion Southern California. And Team Mexico (pictured celebrating at top), which was 12 over par as a whole for the week, claimed the individual championship as well, as future University of Arkansas golfer Cory Lopez, 16, earned top honors.
Lopez, ranked No. 41 in the world among girls by Junior Golf Scoreboard, shot rounds of 70-70-72 at Hiwan for a 2-over-par 212 total. The resident of Monterrey, Mexico prevailed by one stroke over Serena Sepersky of Southern California, who closed with a 71.
“It feels very good” to sweep the titles, Lopez said. “I played good, the team played very good. Representing your country means so much. After coming close the last couple of years, this year we were going to win it.”
Lopez (below), who was 3 under par through the first five holes on Friday, won despite playing her final dozen holes in 5 over par.
This week marked the first GJAC held in Colorado since 2000 and the first Hiwan has ever hosted, though the boys Junior America’s Cup was played at the club in 2011.
The facility and the event drew rave reviews, even if threatening weather forced Friday’s closing ceremonies inside.
“The star of the show this week was Hiwan,” CGA executive director Ed Mate said. “It reminds me of how great this place is. We can’t thank the club, owners David and Nancy Fowler, and the members enough. It really is all things Colorado.”
Added Cassell: “The event was an absolute success. The volunteers, the members, the staff, everything was wonderful. And the tournament was so well organized. It was very impressive, a great event all around.”
Among those on hand for at least part of this week’s GJAC were University of Denver women’s head coach Lindsay Kuhle, who played on the Colorado team the last time the state hosted the GJAC in 2000, and Georgene McGonagle, who captained the Colorado team for four straight years in the 1980s. McGonagle remains effusive about the event to this day.
“I think this is probably one of the most wonderful things for young girls for their development,” she said. “It’s something they’re going to remember the rest of their lives. They have to work with lots of other people. They learn the pressure of competition, which will suit them for any realm the rest of their life. (The GJAC) has to go on forever because it’s so meaningful and important for the development of those kids.”
Also in attendance at Hiwan on Friday was Davis Bryant of Aurora, who teamed with Dillon Stewart of Fort Collins, Cal McCoy of Highlands Ranch and Walker Franklin of Broomfield as Colorado won its first title ever in the boys Junior America’s Cup. Bryant came to Hiwan to support his sister, Emma, who was on the GJAC team, after he returned from the boys competition in Montana. (Davis is pictured at left with his boys JAC medal.)
The 2018 Girls Junior Americas Cup was conducted by the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado.
5. (out of 18 teams) Colorado 219-230-227–676
14. Kelsey Webster, Boulder 70-81-75–226
14. Lauren Lehigh, Loveland 74-77-75–226
21. Hailey Schalk, Erie 75-75-77–227
48. Emma Bryant, Aurora 77-78-85–240
For all the scores from the Girls Junior Americas Cup, CLICK HERE.