Semifinal Teams Set After Incredible Day of Play at National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship
Savannah Laverty of Team New Jersey hits her tee shot on the 18th hole during the second round of the 2022 National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club on October 8, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)
Some call it the final four. Others call it the phenomenal four. You may even call it the fantastic four.
Four states from coast to coast will be represented in the semifinals tomorrow at the 2022 National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship–with No. 1 seed Team Illinois (Lemont), No. 2 seed Team North Carolina (Charlotte), No. 3 seed Team Florida (Orlando) and No. 4 seed Team California (Encinitas) emerging from a 12-team field to play for all of the glory on Sunday.
Each team in the field at scenic Grayhawk Golf Club was under par for the first two days of stroke play, playing lights out golf, highlighted by Illinois torrid 50-under par pace.
The winners of Sunday morning’s match-play semifinals will advance to the Championship match in the afternoon. Final live coverage begins Sunday on ESPNU at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.
Illinois doubled down on its 25-under par first-day performance, to remain in the lead spot, after being tied with North Carolina after round one.
It was still neck-and-neck, with North Carolina ending stroke play one stroke back at 49-under par.
“Rarely am I speechless, and I am beyond speechless at the moment,” said Team Illinois Coach Kevin Weeks, PGA. “They're a close group, they pull for each other… so if one doesn’t play well, another picks them up.”
Weeks highlighted the stellar performance of Illini pairing Victoria Cui, 13, of Lake Forest, and Luciano Giangrossi, 12, of Evanston. The two made quite the recovery after shooting 2-over par on Friday morning. Saturday, they shot a total of 7-under par.
“We both struck the ball really well today compared to yesterday,” said Giangrossi. “We hit a lot of greens, and we were reading our putts really well.”
For Weeks, this entire experience is about the bigger picture.
“I am so proud of watching all of them grow,” Weeks said. “This is what PGA Jr. League is about—developing people. Not just golf, but developing people emotionally, and seeing them grow together, and pull for each other. It’s been special to be with this team.”
Like Cui and Giangrossi, North Carolina pairing John John Santospago, 13, of Charlotte, and Miles Russell, 13, of Pinehurst, also bounced back to shoot 7-under for the day.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Santospago. “We parred our first four holes, but on No. 14 [the team started on No. 10] we stuck it close, made a birdie and then birdied four out of our last five holes.”
Two shots back at 47-under par sits Team Florida (Orlando) in the No. 3 seed, followed by two-time Champions Team California (Encinitas) at 45-under par for the final spot in the semifinals.
The Orlando-based team––which was fortunately not impacted by the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Ian––wore blue ribbons with pride to show their support for the Sunshine State.
“We are extremely blessed to be here,” said Team Florida Coach Cori McAuliffe, LPGA. “We’re pulling for everybody at home who was affected by Hurricane Ian, and we’re praying for you.”
Team California is no stranger to the Championship having taken home the title in 2015 and 2018, but each year presents a different challenge.
“Getting here was great, and making match play now, that was our big deal… There is a lot of talent here this year,” said Team California Coach John Mason, PGA. “Match play is a different game. You have to find a way to hang in there and figure out a way to tie three holes. That’s what we are going to focus on is the match play format.”
Despite a valiant effort, Defending Champion Team Utah (Lehi) came up short and finished four shots out of semifinals reach. They were supported this week in the gallery by PGA Tour star and dad Tony Finau, whose son, 10-year-old Jraice, and nephew Jordan Ofahengaue, 12, competed as teammates.
Team Texas (Farmers Branch) finished in the 6th spot at 41-under par. Team Oklahoma (Broken Arrow) was a shot behind Texas in 7th place. Team Minnesota (Blaine) finished in 8th place at 33-under par. Team Connecticut (Torrington) closed in 9th place at 32-under par.
Team New Jersey (Haworth) finished in 10th, one stroke behind Connecticut. At 25-under par, Team Pennsylvania (West Mifflin) finished in 11th place, with Team New York (Saratoga Springs) in 12th place at 3-under par.
Team Florida posted the best total score of the day, with a 26-under par showing. Illinois hoisted its second consecutive 25-under par day. North Carolina, Oklahoma and Connecticut all shot 24-under par on Saturday.
Team Connecticut had the single best nine-hole round of the day at 14-under par. Illinois, Utah and Texas also posted 13-under par rounds.
1: Team Illinois (Lemont), -50 2: Team North Carolina (Charlotte), -49 3: Team California (Encinitas), -47 4: Team Florida (Orlando), -46 5: Team Utah (Lehi), -42 6: Team Texas (Farmers Branch), -41 7: Team Oklahoma (Broken Arrow), -40 8: Team Minnesota (Blaine), -33 9: Team Connecticut (Torrington), -32 10: Team New Jersey (Haworth), -31 11: Team Pennsylvania (West Mifflin), -25 12: Team New York (Saratoga Springs), -3
NEWS & NOTES
GAME, SET, MATCH PLAY
The top four seeds will compete in the match-play semifinals on Sunday morning beginning at 7:15 a.m. local time for the right to play in the championship match on Sunday beginning at 11:10 a.m. The two teams that do not advance will play in the 3rd place match.
Click here for No. 1 vs. No. 4 semifinal and No. 2 vs. No. 3 semifinal start times.
The eight teams not participating in the semifinals are eligible to compete in a 9-hole, two-person scramble coined the “Raptor Shootout” for the second consecutive year.
ESPN on-air talent features PGA Honorary President Suzy Whaley, PGA; Michael Collins; Andy North, PGA; and Taylor Zarzour.
Sunday, Oct. 9 4-6 p.m. ET – ESPNU 9-11 p.m. ET (encore of Sunday) – ESPN2
EXPLORING A FUTURE IN GOLF
Saturday morning, 30 students, their parents, and even an adult interested in a career change, experienced an inside look at the various career opportunities within the golf industry. They embarked on a personalized tour of the tournament meeting key individuals involved in the Championship along the way, including PGA Secretary Don Rea Jr., PGA; PGA of America Director of Competition Laura Frick, PGA; PGA Career Services Recruiting Specialist Caleb Hung, PGA; and PGA of America Career Services Recruiting Specialist Dylan Gladney. Citing the over $84 billion golf industry and its more than 2 million jobs, Rea challenged attendees to look even further than the wide variety of jobs currently available. For a full story on the Career Exploration event, click here.
LETTING THE KIDS TAKE THE REINS
PGA Secretary and Mesa, Arizona resident Don Rea Jr., PGA, had some fun with his starter duties, when he let 8-year-old Jonathan Castellanos take over the microphone on the first tee to announce his brothers, Florida teammates 11-year-old Jeremy and 13-year-old Joshua Castellanos.
PGA Honorary President Suzy Whaley has traveled in year’s past to the National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship as a Coach, and most recently as an on-air talent for ESPN’s family of networks. The President of Golf Nation and PGA Director of Instruction at The Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Whaley took a moment from her broadcasting duties to meet with Team Florida (Orlando), who are wearing blue ribbons to raise awareness for Hurricane Ian relief awareness and encouraging viewers to donate to the American Red Cross.