Won Jun Lee, 17, of the Republic of Korea, and Viktor Hovland, 17, of Norway, fired rounds of 4-under-par 68 Monday to share the lead on the first day of stroke play in the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at the par-72, 7,336-yard Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course.
Lee was flawless with four birdies and no bogeys, while Hovland’s round was highlighted by a 30-yard chip-in for eagle on the par-5 11th. Each player was among a group of 14 in the 156-player field who earned an exemption from sectional qualifying for the championship after being listed in the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
The U.S. Junior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Saturday, July 25, starting at 7 a.m. EDT.
The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Lee, who advanced to the Round of 32 in last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur, started on the 10th hole and shot 2-under 34 on his first nine with birdies on Nos. 13 and 18. He hit a 52-degree wedge within 6 feet to set up his first birdie and then made another short birdie putt after stuffing his 4-iron approach.
“I hit my low-iron shots really well today,” said Lee, who was born in Seoul but now attends Saddlebrook Prep School in Florida. “Tomorrow, I just need to keep a steady round and try and hit the fairway as much as possible. This is the biggest junior tournament. It’s very challenging.”
Lee took advantage of both par 5s on the outward nine (his inward nine). He birdied the 541-yard, par-5 second and added his fourth birdie of the round on No. 8 by sinking a 5-foot putt.
Hovland, who also played in the morning wave, matched Lee’s first-round score when he got up and down from the collection area behind the 18th green for par. He started with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole, before making a 10-footer on No. 7. After holing a sand wedge for eagle on No. 11, Hovland rifled a 185-yard, 7-iron approach shot to within 10 feet to set up his third birdie on the par-4 15th.
“I am very happy with myself right now,” said Hovland, who his competing in his first USGA championship and third event in the U.S. “I was driving it pretty good; I was in the fairway. My scrambling was pretty good and I took care of my chances.”
Brandon Mancheno, 15, of Jacksonville, Fla., Brody Blackmon, 17, of Sulphur Springs, Texas, and Travis Vick, 15, of Houston, Texas, each carded 3-under 69s, one stroke off the pace.
Mancheno, whose putting has improved following a recent ball-position adjustment, registered back-to-back birdies on Nos. 9 and 10. He lifted a lob wedge to within 5 feet to complete the outward nine and then sank an 18-foot putt on the following hole.
“We found something in my putting,” said Mancheno, a left-hander who has also qualified for next month’s U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. “I have not been making mistakes on the greens and been able to make a lot of birdies. It’s been working well.”
Blackmon, who had the best round of the afternoon groupings, made three birdies on his outward nine after starting on No. 10. He delivered a 136-yard gap wedge to within 7 feet on the par-4 14th before converting a 5-footer for another birdie on the par-5 16th. He later had an opportunity to grab a share of the lead but missed a 9-foot birdie putt on No. 9.
“If you can keep it in the fairway off the tee, you can score out here,” said Blackmon, the grandson of 1969 U.S. Open and 1989 U.S. Senior Open champion Orville Moody. “I hit the ball well of the tee, hit my irons good, I was putting good, and it just felt all right.”
South Carolina native Andrew Orischak, 16, of Hilton Head Island, leads a group of three players at 2-under 70. Orischak, who played in the morning’s first group from the first tee, made three birdies before finishing with a bogey on the par-4 18th.
“Out here, it’s about where to miss,” said Orischak, who has played the Pete Dye Course a few times before this week. “You can get into some difficult spots. I knew a couple spots where you couldn’t miss and I kept my ball in play.”
Clay Seeber, one of five 14-year olds in the championship, was the youngest player in the field to break par and one of 17 competitors to do so. He shot a 71. Andy Zhang, who is competing in his fourth U.S. Junior Amateur and became the youngest to play in a U.S. Open at age 14 in 2012, carded a 72.
Cole Hammer, the third-youngest to have played in a U.S. Open when he competed at Chambers Bay in June, finished at 1-over-par 73. The 15-year old from Houston posted three birdies and four bogeys.
“It’s very, very important to have patience on this course,” said Hammer, when asked how much his U.S. Open experience will help him this week. “It can beat you up if you put it in a bad spot. [I just need to] try my best to grind out pars when I can and hopefully the occasional birdie will come.”
Brian DePasquale is a manager of championship communications for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.