Moore Provides a Glimpse of Girls’ Junior Future July 20, 2016 | Paramus, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

Haley Moore headed into the U.S. Girls' Junior with a season of collegiate competition under her belt with the University of Arizona. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

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Since the inception of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in 1949, competitors have known that their final attempt to win this national title would have to come before their 18th birthday.

That longstanding rule changed when the USGA announced on Wednesday that the age limit for both the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior will be raised from 17 to 18 starting in 2017.That news made at least one of the 52 17-year-olds in this week’s championship field very happy.

“Oh wow!” said Haley Moore, of Escondido, Calif., who defeated Brooke Sansom of Montgomery, Ala., 6 and 4, in the Round of 64. “That’s really good because the last couple of qualifiers I have played in for this event, I’ve either been an alternate or I missed qualifying by a couple of shots.”

“Now, with the age limit allowing you to be 18, I can get more experience in national championships,” she added. “I can’t wait until next year. Maybe with another year of experience, I can go all the way.”

The change is a good one, said the teen, who qualified for this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior based on her standing in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, in which she is currently No. 51. Anyone who was in the top 75 as of June 1 and met the age criteria earned an exemption.

The tall Californian arrived at The Ridgewood Country Club this week for her first Girls’ Junior, but  it was not her first time on the national stage. In June, she tied for second individually in the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship as a freshman at the University of Arizona, and in 2015, she advanced to the Round of 32 in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Moore decided to leave high school early last summer when the coaching staff at Arizona approached her mom with an idea. They suggested the possibility of Moore starting college early.

Moore considered the offer, consulted with her high school counselors and opted to take her remaining high school classes online. After she had finished the spring semester at Arizona and competed in the NCAA Championship, she returned home to California to walk in the graduation ceremony with her high school class.

When asked if she thought players would compete in the U.S. Girls’ Junior as college freshmen, like she is doing this week, Moore said she thinks any top player would jump at the chance to add a national championship opportunity to their summer schedule.

“This is one of the top championships and it’s always held on a great course like this,” said Moore, who was the only amateur to make the cut in the LPGA’s first major championship of the season last year, the 2015 ANA Inspiration.“It’s also cool to see so many of the players at this event being watched by college coaches. I’m glad I’m done with that because the recruiting process can be a long fight, but at least you get to choose the college that you love.”

The average age of competitors in this year’s Girls’ Junior is 15.78, which Moore believes could rise if college underclassmen opt for one more chance at the championship.

“It’s a big event to play, so I think the [average age] will change a little bit because some people who couldn’t enter at age 18 will now try to qualify,” she said.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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