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  • Hotel Fitness leader has inspired round
    Sam Saunders may be the grandson of one of the greatest golfers of all time – Arnold Palmer – but it was another grandfather, Robert, who was on the young Saunders’ mind as he shot a 6-under 66 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club on Friday.
  • Fort Wayne's Till loses in match play
    Albany's Goride Rees was down early to Fort Wayne's Sam Till in the finals of the IGA Senior Match Play Championship at Hillview CC but fought for a 2 & 1 victory.
  • Hotel Fitness field has its way on first day
      Ryan Blaum has the lead after the first day of the Hotel Fitness Championship – he shot an 8-under 64 Thursday at Sycamore Hills Golf Club – and he was excited to pull it off despite some struggles.
If you go
What: U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship
Where: Sycamore Hills Golf Club
When: Monday-Tuesday, stroke play; Wednesday-Saturday, match play
Admission: Free

Sycamore Hills ready to test top junior girls golfers

– Many of the top junior girls in the world will be at Sycamore Hills Golf Club this week and the United States Golf Association hopes it will be a showcase for their talents and a stepping stone for their careers.

The 65th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship begins Monday with stroke play and ends Saturday with a 36-hole match-play event, which will determine the winner of one of the most storied tournaments there is for up-and-coming players.

Previous winners of the tournament include Nancy Lopez, Laurie Rinker, In-Bee Park and Alexis Thompson, and it’s the fifth straight year that Jack Nicklaus-designed Sycamore Hills is playing host to a national championship.

In 2009, it was the USGA’s Women’s State Team Championship. From 2010 to 2012, the Junior PGA Championship was there.

And just for good measure, the Hotel Fitness Championship, part of the new Tour Finals, will be at Sycamore Hills from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 and help determine who gets their PGA Tour cards for 2014.

“We have a championship-caliber course here at Sycamore Hills,” USGA representative Donna Mummert said. “We’re not looking to make significant changes to the golf course, but we really want to make it really pop and shine for the championship.”

The Junior PGA, a similar event except it has divisions for boys and girls, provides an idea of the caliber of players that will be at Sycamore Hills this week.

Ariya Jutanugarn, who won the Junior PGA in 2011 and 2012 and is 17, earned $447,772 in her first five LPGA starts this year. She would have ranked sixth if she was a Tour member before injuring her shoulder in early June.

Moriya Jutanugarn, Ariya’s sister who also competed at Sycamore Hills, has played in 13 LPGA events this year and currently ranks 38th with $203,216 in earnings.

Annie Park won the NCAA individual championship this year as a freshman at USC. And Casie Cathrea, who remains an amateur, tied for 25th last month at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“We’re confident the golf course will provide a very stern test for the best junior golfers in the world and identify the best player,” said Eric Schneider, the general manager at par-72 Sycamore Hills, which will be set up at 6,312 yards.

There will be 156 players in the starting field, and they will have two days of stroke play to determine the top 64 that will go on to match play. On Wednesday, there will be first-round matches, followed by back-to-back matches on Thursday and Friday, all of which will be 18 holes.

The winner of Saturday’s final match is not guaranteed success as an adult, but it’s a good indicator of it. Winners of the Girls’ Junior have gone on to victories in 11 Women’s Amateurs and 11 Women’s Opens.

And the USGA plans to make Sycamore Hills challenging, perhaps even more than it was at the Junior PGA, in which Ariya Jutanugarn shot 14 under through four rounds last year.

“When you hear about USGA championships and the ‘agronomic setup,’ you may recall hearing ‘firm and fast,’ ” Mummert said. “That concept will apply here, … with the cooperation of the weather.”

Admission to the Girls’ Junior is free, and it’s a great chance to see high-level golf.

“We strive to maintain the golf course in tournament conditions throughout the season and this gives us confidence that playing the championship in these conditions should be achieved very, very readily,” Schneider said.

“We think the girls will love this golf course and that the girls and their families will enjoy our Hoosier Hospitality.”