EAST WENATCHEE — With the course at Wenatchee Golf & Country Club playing tight and narrow, precise ball-striking was at a premium during the first round of the American Junior Golf Association tournament on Tuesday.
Staying on the fairway proved to be a difficult task for returning champions and locals alike, as several of the top contenders going into the event put up some high numbers.
Kelli Bowers, who will play for the University of Washington later this year after winning four straight Class 1A state championships at Chelan, carded an 81 and is tied for 17th, 10 shots back of co-leaders Kendall Prince and Leilanie Kim.
“I just had a hard time putting it all together today,” said Bowers. “One thing would be working, and something else wasn’t. I just didn’t play like I can play. Precision is definitely important on this course, and I didn’t have it today.”
Other local players in contention include Aaron Whalen (Ephrata) who is in seventh place and six back in the boys division, and his brother Andrew, who is tied for 14th at 74.
Macgregor Hoobery, who won the boys’ division at this event in 2009, put up an 81 in his return to the WG&CC and is tied for 60th.
Morgan Thompson, the third-place female finisher at last year’s event and the 74th-ranked junior golfer in the nation according to the Polo Golf Rankings, is six strokes back after shooting 77.
The AJGA tourney attracts some of the top junior golfers from the West Coast and elsewhere. And those among the 98-player field who were able to stay straight Tuesday tamed the par-72 course.
Zak Griffiths, of Red Deer, Alberta, leads the boys division by two strokes after a blistering first-round 66.
“I was able to roll the ball very well today, but I want to remain focused during the next two rounds,” Griffiths said in a statement released by the AJGA.
Eric Peng, a San Diego native who is two shots back of Griffiths after a 4-under 68, had six birdies in his opening round.
“I only had 27 putts today, so that was good,” said Peng, who attends Torrey Pines High School. “I hadn’t putted that well coming into this week, so I was happy with that.”
Prince, who will play golf at Ohio State after completing her prep career at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Ore., affirmed the need to be accurate on the slick course.
“I played here last year, and the greens are even quicker than they were then,” said Prince, 16. “It’s definitely a target-oriented course, and you have to be so precise to be where you want to be.”
Prince took a 38 into the turn before shooting 33 on the back nine to put herself into a tie atop the leaderboard.
“I just need to continue hitting the ball well,” she said.
Others need to start hitting it well.
“I just have to take it one hole at a time tomorrow,” Bowers said.
Brian Adamowsky: 664-7157