Whitsett seeks first repeat since Tiger

Defending champion Cory Whitsett, 16, is receiving a lot of attention this week, as he chases his second U.S. Junior Amateur Championship – something that hasn’t been achieved since Tiger Woods won three-straight from 1991-93.

“I really try not to have any more expectations this week than I normally would. Obviously, I won last year so a lot of people are expecting me to do well,” said Whitsett.

Woods won his first Junior Am in 1991 at the age of 15 years, six months and 28 days – just three months younger than Whitsett was when he won the title in Missouri last year.

“Winning last year was hard,” said the Houston native. “Winning three years in a row is kind of unfathomable. The guy’s unbelievable.”

But the chance to being mentioned in the same breath with Tiger Woods won’t come easy.

“You’ve got to go out and take it one shot at a time,” said Whitsett, who opened the first round of stroke play Monday with a 3-under par 69.

A bogey on the ninth hole Monday, his final hole after starting off on 10, kept him from a second-place tie with Seth Reeves of Duluth, Ga.

“I obviously would have liked to par the last hole, but it was a good round. I’ll take a 69,” Whitsett said.

Knowing the road to a championship will not be easy, Whitsett said he expects competition from Cameron Peck of Olympia, Wash., who he tied with at 69 on Monday, and Jordan Spieth of Dallas, Texas, who shot an opening round 74.

But the surprise challenger this year may be Jorge Fernandez Valdes of Argentina, who is looking for his own spot in the U.S. Junior Am record books by becoming the first non-American resident to win the tournament.

Fernandez Valdes birdied 10 holes to shoot 7-under par Monday with the second lowest score in the tournaments 61-year history at 65.

The round was also one of the lowest in Shoal Creek history, according to Shoal Creek General Chairman Mike Thompson.

“Isn’t that marvelous golf?” Thompson said when reflecting a round that low.

The only round lower that he can remember being officially recorded at the course was when Gary Cousins set a PGA Championship record with a 63 in the 1984 PGA Championship. But as Thompson quickly points out, the course is 106 yards longer today than it was the last time there was a championship tournament in 1990.

RETURN TO SHOAL CREEK

This week’s tournament is the first United States Golf Association championship event at Shoal Creek in nearly two decades. The tournament has been long awaited, according to Thompson.

“We are delighted to have the USGA back,” Thompson said. “We had not had golf here in a long time, and we wanted a national championship or a major championship, but we’re treating it as if it’s a major as if it’s the 1990 PGA Championship.”

For the first time in Shoal Creek’s history, the public can come to the course without invitation and view a tournament for free.

“We’d love to have anyone who’s interested in seeing a beautiful place to come out and watch great golf,” Thompson said.

While most all of the players in the tournament are unknown names to the public, Thompson encourages others to come watch the future faces of the PGA Tour battle for a championship.

“This one’s particularly fun because of the age of the young men, how fun they are, how talented they are and the fact that you can walk right with them in the fairway,” Thompson said. “One of them will win the Masters, one of them will win the U.S. Open and, maybe, one will win the British Open one day.”

Thompson said he’d love to see Whitsett make history as the second player to repeat a title, but will be pleased to be the one to help crown a new champion.

“There are so many players here, we’re pulling for all of them right now,” Thompson said after Monday’s opening round.

More than 3,000 golfers from across the nation attempted to qualify for the tournament, with 156 making their way to Shoal Creek this past Friday.

Thompson said he is impressed with the turnout of volunteers, as 55 volunteer rules officials join the 10 USGA staff members on hand. There also 344 local volunteers doing everything from marshaling, helping with hospitality tents or driving shuttle vans.

TOURNAMENT INFORMATION

– Open to amateur players who will not have reached their 18th birthday on or before July 26, 2008, and who have a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 6.4.

– Starting Field of 156 golfers play rounds two rounds of 18 holes (Monday-Tuesday) in an attempt to qualify for the 64-player match play.

– Wednesday, July 23 – first 18-hole round of match play

– Thursday, July 24 – two 18-hole round of match play

– Friday, July 25 – 18-hole quarterfinal round followed by an 18-hole semifinal round.

– Saturday, July 26 – 36-hole championship round.

– Admission is free

COURSE INFORMATION

– Total Yards: 7,251

– Shortest hole: No. 8 “Wee Pond” – Par 3, 171 yards

– Longest hole: No. 6 “First Eagle” – Par 5, 575 yards

– Designed by Jack Nicklaus in the late 1970s

– Located off Shelby County 41