GRANITEVILLE, South Carolina (April 21, 2016) – Austin Eckroat of Edmond, Oklahoma, leads the 2016 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club after recording a 65 in Thursday's first round.
Three shots off Eckroat’s pace, in second place, is Norman Xiong (4-under 68) of Canyon Lake, California. Xiong battled inconsistency, but scored well with seven birdies against just a trio of bogeys.
Garrett Barber (2-under 70) of Stuart, Florida, is tied for third place with Doc Redman of Raleigh, North Carolina. Benjamin Shipp of Duluth, Georgia, and Christian Salzer of Sumter, South Carolina, both carded 71s and are tied for fifth, six shots back.
Eckroat birdied three of his final five holes in a round that was stress-free outside of a bogey on the morning’s initial hole.
The 17-year-old Eckroat, who is making his debut in the Junior Invitational, birdied three of Sage Valley's four par 5s, but he owed his opening 65 to "striking the ball so well, it was not tough to make birdies. I made almost everything I should have out there."
What made Eckroat's 65 more noteworthy is that, despite a stellar field, only six of the 54 players registered sub-par scores.
"I just hit the ball really well today," said Eckroat. "I had six-footers all day, so I was not even putting all that well. I left a few out there, but I am not upset about it."
A member of the Team USA that will compete later this summer in the 2016 Junior Golf World, Eckroat has already verbally committed to play collegiately at Oklahoma State University.
Marcus Svensson of Sweden (Even-par 72) is the field's low international player. He is tied for seventh with 36 holes remaining to be played on Friday and Saturday.
The 2016 Junior Invitational features the largest international contingent in the event's history, as 14 different countries are represented. Last year, Marcus Kinhult of Sweden became the Junior Invitational’s first international champion.
Chris Nowak, PGA REACH Coordinator and a retired United States Marine, joined Madelyn Edwards of the First Tee-Aiken and D.J. Kellar of the First Tee-Augusta in striking early-morning ceremonial tee shots to begin the 2016 Junior Invitational.
The 54-hole Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club is widely recognized as one of the premier junior tournaments in the world. The prestigious event attracts many of the game's top-ranked junior golfers on an annual basis.