The first round of the 13th Northern Junior Championship concluded this afternoon at the famed New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Connecticut with Will Bernstein and Mackenzie Hawkes leading the Boys and Girls Championships, respectively. A dense early morning fog delayed the start of this year’s championship by forty minutes, but eventually gave way to clear skies and a light south breeze.
This year marks the first time the Northern Junior has been held at New Haven Country Club and the challenging greens and classic layout proved to be a stern test for some of the nation’s best junior players.
In the Boys Championship, Will Bernstein of New York, New York carded a sublime bogey-free round of 67 to claim a one shot lead heading into Wednesday’s final round.
“I got off to a bit of a slow start this season but I’ve been playing some really solid golf the past few weeks,” said Bernstein, who will follow in his older brother Sam’s footsteps by attending Yale University this fall.
Bernstein credited his putting for his solid round today, ironically using his older brother’s putter. “It’s his old Odyssey putter from about ten years ago and I just love the feel of it. I hit a lot of lag putts five or six feet past the hole but all of the second putts were right in the center which helped keep the round together.”
He’ll hope the good putting vibes continue into tomorrow as a host of players will be chasing his narrow lead. Bernstein finished second last week at the AJGA Philadelphia Junior after carrying the lead into the final round, but feels better prepared after the experience.
“I definitely learned a lot last week even though I didn’t win. It’s all about putting yourself in position and trying to not get too far ahead of yourself, and that’s what I’ll try to do tomorrow.”
Brock Kovach of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania sits just one shot behind Bernstein after a smooth round of two under par 68 that included one birdie, one bogey, one eagle, and fifteen pars.
“I had a lot of high expectations going into this summer,” said Kovach, who will be attending George Mason University this fall. “I’ve been hitting the ball well and scoring pretty well, but just haven’t been closing out as many rounds as I’d like. Today I feel like I did a pretty good job of that with some big par saves coming down the stretch and a great birdie on 17.”
Kovach will have the opportunity to close out a Northern Junior title and a fantastic junior career…if he can catch Bernstein. But he won’t be the only one chasing the overnight leader. Andrew Sciarretta, Eric Austin, and Nathaniel Dong all trail Bernstein by two shots after posting rounds of one under par 69.
Another five players are tied are even par, while defending champion Evan Grenus is four shots off the pace after a round of 71. With a total of seventeen players within four shots of Bernstein’s lead, tomorrow’s final round is sure to provide plenty of drama and excitement.
In the Girls Championship, Mackenzie Hawkes of Madison, Connecticut holds a three advantage over Phoebe Brinker of Wilmington, Delaware. Hawkes, who actually held a membership at New Haven Country Club for a year, is a rising senior at the Westminster School where she competes on the Boys Varsity golf team. Her round of 71 included three bogeys and two birdies, which came back-to-back on holes 14 and 15.
“I didn’t get into much trouble off the tee today, and the one hole I did I made a great par save. I also made all of my putts in the five foot range today and that obviously helps a lot out here,” said Hawkes.
As for tomorrow, she’ll rely on a bit of local knowledge to keep herself at the top of the leaderboard. “There are definitely some spots out here where you have to keep the ball under the hole and a few holes where you have to be strategic. I’ll do my best to follow my game plan tomorrow and play another solid round.”
Trailing Hawkes by three shots is young Phoebe Brinker, whose round of 74 included three birdies. Brinker is just twelve years old but has proven she belongs among older competition, claiming three wins on the CT PGA Junior Tour last season. Another shot back are Krystal Knight and Julia Kemmling after rounds of 75, while Elizabeth Bose closes out the top 5 after a round of 76.
Widely regarded as one of the top private golf courses in New England, New Haven Country Club has a long history of hosting the area’s top amateur championships. An incredible sixteen Connecticut Amateur Championships and seven Connecticut Open Championships have been contested over the Robert D. Pryde and Willie Park Jr. design, further adding to the history and honor surrounding this year’s championship.
This year’s Northern Junior field features players from 15 different states and provinces ranging from twelve to eighteen years old.
The final round of the 2014 Northern Junior will begin tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM, with final groups teeing off between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM. Admission and parking at New Haven Country Club are free and spectators are encouraged to attend.