GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Golf Channel "Morning Drive" co-host Gary Williams is taking a few days off from the studio to watch the best junior golfers in the world.
He'll do so in Graniteville.
There, Williams and tournament spectators will have the opportunity to watch the event with the best field in junior golf – the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club, the sixth edition of which tees off this week.
"We're talking about the best of the best, and it's not just from the United States; it's from around the world," Williams told co-host Charlie Rymer on Monday's "Morning Drive."
Fifty-four of the world's best junior golfers, representing 14 different countries, will tee it up this week in the Junior Invitational, with the three-day, 54-hole tournament starting on Thursday.
"Once again, we felt like we got the best field in junior golf," tournament coordinator Elaine Barnhill said. " ... We are just as thrilled with this year's field as we have been in the past. We have a lot of great returning players, a lot of super, new young guys that we're excited to see, and we're real excited to watch them get out there and experience the golf course."
Louisiana's Phillip Barbaree, Golfweek's top-ranked junior golfer, headlines a field deep enough to not really have a true favorite. Sixteen of the top 17 players are entered, truly making this week anyone's tournament.
"It gives an opportunity for junior golfers, for youth, for other kids who are aspiring to be the next Tiger Woods, or Rory McIlroy, or whoever, to come out and see what it takes to do that, because that's where a lot of these kids are," said Barnhill. "That's what they're working toward, and this level of junior golf is really sort of their first stepping stone toward what they hope will be a professional career."
Look no further than Emiliano Grillo and Justin Thomas. Each played in the inaugural Junior Invitational in 2011, and both have already won on the PGA Tour. Grillo, Thomas, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Romain Langasque are all Junior Invitational alumni who played in this year's Masters Tournament.
"It's very exciting to have watched some great alumni at the Masters this year," Barnhill said. "It just was an amazing feeling watching them, not only at the Masters, but really at all of the tournaments that they play in."
Joining that quartet in the field at Augusta National was a member of this week's field at Sage Valley – 17-year-old (as of Monday) Paul Chaplet, the Costa Rican champion of the Latin America Amateur Championship.
Sweden's Marcus Kinhult became the first international winner of the Junior Invitational with his 2015 championship. He's now a professional on the European Tour, but five players who finished in last year's top 10 return to South Carolina's fourth-ranked golf course, according to Golf Digest, for another shot at the title – Davis Shore, last year's runner-up; Viraj Madappa, the 36-hole leader who finished tied for fourth; Barbaree, who tied for sixth; and Joaquin Niemann and Clemson commit Doc Redman, both of whom tied for 10th.
Four South Carolinians are part of the field, including Hilton Head Island's Andrew Orischak, Inman's Trent Phillips, Lexington's Caleb Proveaux and Sumter's Christian Salzer, the South Carolina Golf Association junior champ.
The tournament tees off on Thursday, but the festivities begin Tuesday. Peter Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America, will be joined by Williams for a fireside chat at Tuesday's opening banquet.
"Mr. Bevacqua was really just a natural fit to hear more about their plans, plans for the PGA and plans for the future of golf," said Barnhill. "We're really excited to have him with us."
Barnhill said Golf Channel is returning to Sage Valley for some live spots from the Junior Invitational during tournament days in addition to some recordings and follow-ups in the evening on "Golf Central."
This article was written by Kyle Dawson from Aiken Standard, S.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.