Philip Francis, 17, of Scottsdale, Ariz., put a punctuation mark on an already impressive run of victories this summer, with a 3-and-2 decision over 15-year-old Richard Lee of nearby Chandler, Ariz., to win the 36-hole final match of the 2006 U.S. Junior Amateur at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.
“It feels great,” Francis said. “You look at the past winners in the USGA events such as Tiger (Woods) and the greats of golf, and to put your name up there with them always feels good.”
Francis, who earlier stated that winning would be based on consistency and lack of mistakes, looked more in control of his distance than the long-hitting Lee.
“I was able to hit just as many [types of] shots two years ago,” Francis said of the two-year difference between Lee and himself. “But, the difference between now and then is I’m managing my game better. You know Richard will develop into doing the same thing because he’s winning, he’s really aggressive and I was the same way.”
Francis, who has won the American Junior Golf Association’s Rolex Tournament of Champions and the Thunderbird Invitational this year, fashioned a 4-up lead through 11 holes, highlighted by a 104-yard, 54-degree wedge shot that flew into the hole for an eagle on No. 9. He also birdied the par-5 fifth and eighth holes for wins.
The Canadian-born Lee, who won the 13-14 division of the Junior Worlds in 2005, reduced his deficit to just two holes through the first 18 when Francis made his sole morning bogey on the 16th and then the home-schooled 10th-grader birdied the par-5 18th.
“I wasn’t thinking so much,” Lee said of his morning deficit. “I was just trying to hit the ball straight and make the putts out there.”
After lunch, Francis, a first-team AJGA All-American, won the 21st hole with a par after Lee bogeyed and moved his lead to 4 up with a birdie on the par-4 sixth (24th hole).
Lee responded with a birdie on the short, par-4 10th but lost the 13th (28th) when Francis hit the flagstick with a 6-iron and then sank a 12-foot putt for a winning birdie to move his lead to 4 up. Lee won the par-3 14th (32nd) with an 8-foot, par-saving putt when Francis could not get up and down from a greenside bunker.
On the 16th hole (34th), both players hit their approach shots close on the green. Francis, playing first, holed his 9-foot birdie putt for the victory.
During the course of 34 holes, Francis, who will attend UCLA in 2007, posted nine birdies, an eagle and two bogeys, the stroke play equivalent of 9-under-par with the usual match-play concessions. Lee, who qualified for the 2005 U.S. Amateur as a 14-year-old, logged six birdies and just two bogeys.
Francis and Lee, who play golf together on a regular basis, comprise what is believed to be the first all-Arizona final in the 59 years of the Junior Amateur. The last Arizona champion was Charlie Beljan, who won in 2002.
“I’m really happy with runner-up,” Lee said. “Philip was such good competition out there. He’s my really good friend in Arizona and we know what we are doing out there together. I’m really proud of myself coming in second in the U.S. Junior Am. In my second round, the putts didn’t go in. That’s unfortunate, I’ll try to get that fixed. It was a little struggle out there with putting but the shots were pretty good.”
The winner receives a gold medal and the custody of the Junior Amateur Championship Trophy for the ensuing year. The finalists are also exempt from qualifying for the 2006 U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., in August. Francis is also exempt into next year’s Amateur at The Olympic Club, while Lee, a public-course player, is exempt into the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Cantigny Golf Course outside of Chicago. The finalists also receive an exemption from local qualifying for the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club (Francis is exempt through 2009)
All quarterfinalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo., near St. Louis, July 23-28.
The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are solely for amateurs. Past champions include Tiger Woods (1991, 1992, 1993), David Duval (1989), Gay Brewer (1949) and Mason Rudolph (1950).