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MARLBOROUGH, Massachusetts – Spots to two USGA national championships were up for grabs on Monday at Marlborough Country Club, where 83 competitors sought qualifying spots to the U.S. Junior Amateur championship taking place at Ohio’s Inverness Club beginning July 15, and another 31 competitors eyed the opportunity to advance to the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship one week later at SentryWorld in Wisconsin.
Following their 18-hole qualifiers, the trio of James Imai (Brookline), Jack O’Donnell (Cohasset) and Thomas Stafford (Canada) secured spots to the 72nd U.S. Junior Amateur while Isabella Gomez (Colombia), Alexsandra Lapple (Connecticut) and Eunice Kim (New Jersey) punched their tickets to the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior, respectively.
Reigning Christopher Cutler Rich Mass Golf Junior Player of the Year, James Imai, who fell in the Round of 64 at last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, is looking to advance even further this year, and he took the first step at getting back to the national stage by carding a 3-under 68 on Monday to earn medalist honors. He’ll be making his third U.S. Junior Amateur appearance after also advancing in 2015.
The 18-year old Imai, who will play collegiately for Northwestern University beginning in September, made the turn at 3-under par 32, then tallied birdies on three of his final six holes to secure the top spot on the leaderboard. With his finish, Imai will look to become the second straight Bay State golfer to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship after Wellesley’s Michael Thorbjornsen accomplished the feat at Baltusrol Golf Club last July.
“I felt great,” said Imai, of Brookline, following Monday’s round. “I knew this was my last chance at the U.S. Junior so I was going to give everything I got and today, I was just in control of my ball flight.”
Behind three birdies on his front nine that paced his first round and got him a lead to work with in his second nine, Imai was able to bounce back from a pair of bogeys on the 10th and 12th holes by carding back to back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. A two on the par-3 18th hole sealed James’ spot atop the leaderboard.
“Everyone is going to make bogeys out here and I tried to stay patient and eventually the birdies came,” said Imai regarding his bounce back in the midst of the back nine. “You have to be below the hole here and I was able to do that for the most part and had good looks. I was able to bounce back and finish strong.”
In addition to Imai, Cohasset’s Jack O’Donnell, a rising senior at Boston College High School, and Canada’s Thomas Stafford each punched tickets to next month’s Championship Proper after advancing from a 5-for-2 playoff Monday afternoon. The duo parred each of the first two playoff holes they played to place on the leaderboard, while Framingham’s Bobby Manion secured the first alternate spot and Canada’s Jeffrey Fang took the second alternate spot following the conclusion of the playoff, which went a total of four holes.
“It means a lot [to qualify for the U.S. Girls’ Junior] because I had never tried to qualify for this tournament before,” said Gomez, a 17-year old from Colombia who tallied three birdies and an eagle to top the field of competitors Monday afternoon at Marlborough Country Club.
Following two bogeys on holes four and five, Gomez birdied the eighth hole to bring her within one as she made the turn to her back nine, then added an additional two birdies and an eagle to void the three bogeys she carded on the way in. It was the eagle, however, that set her apart from her competition and allowed her to finish at even-par 72, three strokes ahead of her next closest competitors.
“I holed out from about 60 yards on the 14th hole and that was really fun,” said Gomez of her eagle, who chose the Marlborough qualifying site due to its proximity to some of Boston’s colleges, which she is also visiting while on her stay from South America.
Monday marked Gomez’ first attempt at qualifying for the USGA event. In the United States, she had previously competed in select AJGA competitions.
In addition to Gomez, Connecticut’s Alexsandra Lapple and New Jersey’s Eunice Kim carded matching 3-over 75’s and finished T2 to secure the final two spots to next month’s Championship Proper in Wisconsin.
Jamaica Plain’s Anne Walsh, who earlier this year competed in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, took the first alternate spot after shooting a 4-over 76 and winning out in a one-hole playoff while Julia Kashimura, of Watertown, Connecticut, took the second alternate spot.
Mass Golf will provide coverage of its Massachusetts competitors competing in the 72nd U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Inverness Club from July 15-20, and at the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at SentryWorld from July 22-27. Visit MassGolf.org and follow @PlayMassGolf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest information. To join the conversation, use the hashtag #MassGolf, #USJuniorAm and #USGirlsJunior.