HARBOR SPRINGS — A day after the week began with a celebration, some of the top golfers from around the state and country got to work on trying to end the week in celebration at The Highlands of Harbor Springs Tuesday.
The 21st annual Coca-Cola Junior Championships of the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) began with the opening round Tuesday at The Highlands, following a qualifier and practice round Monday.
When the opening round closed, the top of both the boys and girls leaderboards showcased the national and international flare of the event, with everywhere from Canada, New Zealand and Thailand represented.
It was a Michigan native and the highest finishing returnee on the boys side that took the top spot with the day’s lowest round, however, as Lorenzo Pinili (2023) of Rochester Hills carded an 8-under-par 64 on the Moor Course at The Highlands.
Pinili placed fourth overall a year ago and was the state’s Division 2 runner-up finisher this past spring season on the links.
On the girls side, Megan Meng (2024) of Pennington, N.J. shot a leading round of 6-under-par 66. Meng entered the competition ranked No. 107 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Following Pinili on the boys side was Pongsapak Laopakdee of Rayong, Thailand with a 6-under 66, followed by Remy Stalcup of Lake Orion and Leandro Pinili, the younger brother of Lorenzo, each with a 5-under 67.
Three then tied for fifth place with a 4-under 68, which included Brady Catalano or Upper Arlington, Ohio, Connor McNeely of Noblesville, Ind. and Gavin Newkirk of Batavia, Ill.
Pinili’s leading round finished with five birdies and a pair of eagles, which came on No. 14 and No. 18. Pinili’s back nine came with a 6-under 30.
Laopakdee carded seven birdies in the opening round, as did McNeely’s. A total of 32 boys golfers finished below par on the day.
The boys side featured just one golfer out of Northern Michigan, which came as Joshua Lavely of Kewadin.
Lavely, who competes for the Elk Rapids golf team, finished with a 3-under 69, which tied him for eighth overall. He carded four birdies, finishing below par on both the front and back for the first day.
On the girls side, Meng ended the first round with seven birdies to reach her 66, then was followed by Consuela Guo of Auckland, New Zealand and Kelly Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, both with a 3-under 69.
Mekenna Kehoe of Strathroy, Ontario shot 2-under 70, then a three-way tie came for fifth place.
Elyssa Abdullah of Hinsdale, Ill., Anna Huang of Coto De Caza, Calif. and Michelle P. Ding or Toronto all finished with a 1-under 71.
Caroline Chung of Placentia, Calif. and Jessica Jolly of Rockford each then shot even-par 72, with Jolly coming as the Michigan leader for the opening round.
Locals on the girls side of the event came as Addison Balentine of Traverse City and the Traverse City Central golf team, along with Rachel Fay of Petoskey, the daughter of former Boyne golf professional, Mike Fay, who now runs the Mike Fay Golf Academy at Walnut Creek Country Club.
Balentine finished with an opening round 97, while Fay had to withdraw from the competition.
The tournament began with 45 Michigan natives, five different countries represented and players from a total of 19 states.
The boys and girls fields also feature seven golfers that finished top three at the Michigan golf state finals from Division 1-4 this past fall and spring
A total of 10 golfers within the event have already made their college commitment.
Second round play begins Wednesday morning, followed by cuts and the final round on Thursday. Golfers will play the Moor Course throughout the week.
Contact Sports Editor Drew Kochanny at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @DrewKochanny, and Instagram, @drewkochanny
This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Opening round of AJGA at The Highlands highlights young talent