Junior Players alumni have gone on to major accomplishments

If past history holds up this weekend at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, more than a few participants in the Junior Players Championship will be back within a few years — playing for big bucks.

The American Junior Golf invitational begins on Friday with an international field represented by 18 countries. The U.S., Australia and China have the most players, but there are also juniors from Ecuador, Italy, India, Argentina, Singapore and Denmark.

There are 10 players from Florida, including Stewart Slayden of Ponte Vedra Beach, University of Florida commit Fred Biondi of Port St. Lucie and last year’s runner-up, Jake Beber-Frankel of Miami.

There are 42 players in the field of 78 who have committed to play college golf, including those headed to Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Clemson, Texas and Arizona State.

The field is led by Akshay Bhatia of Wake Forest, N.C., who is No. 1 on the AJGA Rolex Rankings and is a two-time AJGA all-American; University of Florida commit Ricky Castillo of Yorba Linda, Calif., ranked third; and Stanford commit Karl Vilips of Australia, who is fourth.

In its 12th year, competitors in the Junior Players have gone on to perform at the highest levels of golf, such as major champions Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas; plus other PGA Tour winners such as Patrick Cantlay, Emiliano Grillo and Daniel Berger.

There have been 18 past Junior Players participants who have qualified for The Players Championship, including Bud Cauley of Jacksonville and Blayne Barber of Lake City.

The tournament is Friday, Saturday and Sunday with players going off Nos. 1 and 10 at 8:10 a.m. Admission to the tournament is free.


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