The 14th Northern Junior Championship began today at the New Haven Country Club amid bright sunshine and gusty winds, which led to unusually high scoring and a tightly packed leaderboard. Christian Cavaliere of Katonah, New York and Hannah Ghelfi of East Falmouth, Massachusetts each hold the lead in their respective divisions heading into tomorrow’s final round.
The 14th Northern Junior Championship is being conducted at the storied New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Connecticut for the second consecutive year. Following suit from 2014 where the first round was delayed by 40 minutes due to fog, this year saw another 40 minute weather delay, this time for a brief thunderstorm that passed over the area in the early morning hours. The rain may have softened the greens a bit but high winds negated any chance of low scoring. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s round, only two players are under par entering Wednesday’s final round.
In the Boys Championship, Christian Cavaliere of Katonah, New York carded a three under par 67 to secure a one shot lead thanks to a curling 30 foot birdie putt on the par 5 18th hole. Cavaliere admits that his round didn’t get off to the most rock solid start after mishitting his tee shot and approach shot at the 1st hole, but he settled in quickly with a long, sliding birdie on the par 3 2nd and a chip-in birdie on the 3rd. “After the first three I was thinking to myself that I was pretty lucky to be two under, so I tried to focus for the rest of the front nine and just give myself opportunities for birdies,” said Cavaliere. “I wouldn’t say that I striped the ball today, but I made a bunch of key putts and avoided any big mistakes.” Following a bogey on the short par 4 8th hole, Cavaliere carded three more birdies on the back nine, including the “bomb” on 18 that pushed him ahead of Umphrey. “My putting is very streaky,” said Cavaliere. “Earlier in the year I was struggling with my putting and just wasn’t playing very well. But I’ve really turned things around lately and I’ve been playing well for the past few months.”
Cavaliere is certainly riding a hot putter coming into this week’s Northern Junior after winning the AJGA Philadelphia Junior presented by Golf Performance Center just last week. Cavaliere carded rounds of 71, 72 and 73 to claim a two shot victory and will look to keep the momentum on his side during tomorrow’s final round. He is playing in his second Northern Junior Championship and will be a senior in high school this fall before beginning his college career at Boston College in the fall of 2016.
Tim Umphrey, also playing in his second Northern Junior Championship, trails Cavaliere by one shot heading into Wednesday’s final round after an impressive two under par 68. Umphrey’s round got off to an interesting start with a front nine that included one birdie, one bogey and one double bogey, leaving him at two over par heading to the par 5 10th hole. “I was struggling with the driver on the first couple of holes,” said Umphrey. “I had two three putts on the front nine and just couldn’t get any putts to fall.” But that all changed once he got to the back nine. An easy two putt birdie on the 10th hole followed by short range birdies on 12, 13, and 15 moved Umphrey from two over to two under in a six hole stretch.
Umphrey also showed the resolve needed to close out his impressive first round when he found trouble on the difficult par 4 16th hole and promptly got up and down from the valley short of the green. That kind of short game display might be just what Umphrey needs to duel with Cavaliere during Wednesday’s final round. Umphrey has also had an impressive summer after qualifying for both the Massachusetts State Amateur and Massachusetts State Open. He is a rising senior at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and will continue his career at a Division I golf program following his senior season.
Sitting three shots behind Cavaliere are Connor Daly of Bronxville, New York, Samuel Knowlton of Darien, Connecticut, and Noah Peterson of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts after posting rounds of even par 70 in Tuesday’s opening round. Daly and Knowlton will both be seniors in high school this fall, while Peterson will be entering his junior year. Another shot back are Bear Carlson of Katonah, New York and Andrew Stock of Danbury, Connecticut after posting rounds of 71 on Tuesday.
On a side note, one player in this year’s field found the easiest way to conquer the tricky New Haven Country Club greens: don’t putt at all. Charlie Dubiel of North Palm Beach, Florida and a rising junior at Phillips Exeter Academy carded a hole-in-one on the scenic par 3 12th hole, the first of his young career. Playing at 175 yards today, Charlie struck a beautiful 7 iron to the front right pin location and watched excitedly as the ball rolled into the cup. Charlie posted a round of 77 and currently sits in a tie for 52nd place.
In the Girls Championship, Hannah Ghelfi of East Falmouth, Massachusetts will carry a three shot lead heading into Wednesday’s final round after a stellar round of one over par 71. Three bogeys combined with two birdies will give Ghelfi a three shot cushion, even though she admits she didn’t drive the ball as well as she would have liked. “I would say my short game definitely saved me today,” said Ghelfi. “I missed a few easy birdie chances, including a short putt on #10, but overall I putted well.”
Playing in her first Northern Junior, Ghlefi is committed to attend the University of Michigan beginning in the fall of 2016. She already has two top 10 finishes in AJGA events this summer but tomorrow she’ll be looking to add the Northern Junior title to her impressive resume. “Tomorrow I’m just going to try to control what I’m doing, and honestly just not think too much.” Her bid for the title won’t go unchallenged however, as a host of players are still within striking distance.
In a three way tie for second place are Caroline Farber of Providence, Rhode Island, Alissa Yang of Norcross, Georgia, and Katie Um of Portsmouth, Rhode Island after carding rounds of four over par 74. Farber’s round included an incredible four birdies in the final six holes to catapult into position for Wednesday’s final round. On the other side of the spectrum, Um struggled coming into the clubhouse, concluding her round with four straight bogeys after being even par through fourteen holes. Yang played steady amid the blustery winds, carding fourteen pars and four bogeys.
Another shot behind Ghelfi’s lead are Alexandra Sazhin of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, 2014 Northern Junior Runner-up Phoebe Brinker of Wilmington, Delaware, and Daphne Chao of Shanghai, China following rounds of five over par 75. It will take some early birdies from the chasers to apply some pressure to Ghelfi’s lead, but the closing holes of New Haven Country Club could provide a dramatic finish if the wind continues to gust.
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. The 14th Northern Junior Championship field features 117 players from 18 different states and countries.
The final round of the 2015 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.