Whalen, Li capture AJGA titles at the Ryan Moore Junior Championship

Staff writerJuly 3, 2014 

Marianne Li of Bellevue, right, gets a congratulatory hug from runner up Sarah Rhee of Lynnwood after winning the Ryan Moore Junior Championship with a score of 222 at RMG Club at Oakbrook on Thursday, July 3, 2014.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

There is a stack of Ping-sponsored American Junior Golf Association championship golf bags piling up around Marianne Li’s garage in Bellevue.

Add another one to the collection.

In what turned out to be a wild final stretch of holes at RMG Club at Oakbrook, Li’s final-hole birdie netted her the girls title at the AJGA Ryan Moore Junior Championship on Thursday at RMG Club at Oakbrook in Lakewood.

A whole lot of pars – 15, to be exact – were good enough for Ephrata’s Aaron Whalen, who captured his first AJGA boys crown. He was the only golfer, boy or girl, to finish the 54-hole tournament under-par.

But as the final round went later and later Thursday, the girls leaderboard got crazier and crazier.

Kennewick’s Catherine Warner – who finished last out of 24 girls in the inaugural Ryan Moore tournament last year – held the lead after the first two rounds. But she got off to a rough start with four bogeys over his first eight holes.

That left the door open for a pair of friends – Li, who just finished her junior year at Newport High School in Bellevue, and Sarah Rhee, the reigning Class 3A state runner-up as a junior from Ingraham High School.

Rhee grabbed the lead when her tee shot at the 13th shot right toward the hole. Her ball hit the flagstick and stopped two inches away for a tap-in birdie.

But Rhee ran into trouble at the last-par 3 hole at No. 16. Her tee shot bounced hard off the back fringe and ran into a patch of high grass in the trees.

It took her three shots to get out of it, eventually leading to a triple bogey.

“On the first (chip), I couldn’t really see the ball very well. I thought if I chopped down on it, it would come out. But it popped straight up and sort of stayed there,” Rhee said. “I tried it again, and it didn’t work again.”

In the lead suddenly, Li – a California-Berkeley commit — had her own issues on the next hole. An errant drive forced her to lay up 60 yards in front of the green at the par 4.

And on her wedge shot, she hit more ground and golf ball – and it popped up into a greenside bunker, leading to a double bogey.

“I was pretty nervous on that third shot because I knew where Sarah was, and thought she would make par,” Li said. “I thought I had to stick it in there close, and I chunked it.”

But on the finishing hole, a straightaway par 4, Li’s 8-iron approach from 130 yards stayed right on line, took once bounce and stopped 10 inches for the hole for a tap-in

birdie.

Rhee and Warner had a chance to force a playoff – with Rhee needing a par, and Warner needing a birdie.

Rhee’s second shot went way over the green. She ended up missing a 30-foot putt to save par – and her tournament life.

Warner faced a delicate 8-footer for birdie, but left it short.

“This was different for me,” Warner said. “I was not used to this at all. I am really surprised I had a chance (to win).”

Li shot a final-round 72, and finished a three-round total of 12-over 222. It was her fourth AJGA tournament title. Warner (75), Rhee (72) and Spokane’s Sierra Kersten (72) tied for second at 223.

On the boys side, the west side of Washington has been good to the Whalen family, which resides in Ephrata. Andrew Whalen advanced to the quarterfinals of match play in 2011, losing to eventual winner Jordan Spieth, who is now a star on the PGA Tour.

Aaron was an eighth grader, and his brother’s caddie at the time.

The Washington State University commit birdied the fourth hole on a 10-foot putt to go out in 1-under 34.

He offset a bogey at No. 11 by making birdie at the par-5 14th en route to a final-round 69.

He finished at 1-under 209, two strokes ahead of overnight leader Graysen Huff (72) of Eagle, Idaho.

“This means a lot,” Whalen said. “I heard Ryan (Moore) speak last year. Listening to how he grew up – all the tournaments he played – and how hard he worked ... that meant a lot to me to hear. To win his tournament felt great knowing I accomplished something he has achieved before as a junior.”

CHIP SHOTS

Moore, the tournament host, was in town all week. The three-time PGA Tour winner from Puyallup spoke at a players’ meeting before the tournament Monday, held a junior clinic Tuesday and handed out the awards Thursday. He will also host a second AJGA event next June in Las Vegas – becoming the only PGA Tour player to sponsor two separate junior tournaments. ... The top local finishers on the boys side was Orting’s Joe Harvie (tied for fourth at 214), and on the girls side it was Bellarmine Prep’s Olivia Benzin (tied for fifth at 225).

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

@ManyHatsMilles

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