What\‘s happening in AzGolf and beyond: Vol. 1

       Kids will be the first to christen Papago Golf Course with an official competition when the 14th annual Thunderbird Invitational takes place this weekend at the newly renovated municipal course.
      That the state’s finest juniors will set new course records in both the men’s and women’s divisions – even if such marks will probably last less than a month in the girls division – also is very cool. After all, a huge part of the goal set forth by the Arizona Golf Association and its Arizona Golf Foundation was to bring kids into the mix.  
     Albert Murdoch, the general manager at Papago, said his staff is gearing up for its first big competition outside the Papago men’s club.
     “We run the men’s club at Papago like it’s an official competition every week, but I guess this will be our first official tournament from outside (the club),’’ Murdoch said. “The Junior Thunderbird always has been a great tournament for the top young players in Arizona and we’re looking forward to hosting them.’’
     Whoever shoots the low number in the boys’ and girls’ divisions will be the new course record holders, at least until the LPGA arrives at Papago for the J Golf LPGA Phoenix International, which takes place March 26-29. Whoever shoots the low round among the boys will hold up, however, as there are no official men’s competitions planned at the course in the immediate future.
     “The course is playing tough because the greens are firm and fast, and we have no way of slowing them down because they’re too new to airify yet,’’ Murdoch pointed out. “I think the low score in the men’s club so far has been a (4-under-par) 68.’’
      The talent is 60 juniors deep for the Thunderbird, with Cameron Palmer back to defend his boys’ title and Mieke Canan, the 2008 Junior Golf Association of Arizona Player of the Year, heading up the girls’ competition. Other top juniors include Sun Park, Aleah Kim, Lily Bartell, Mike Basco and Evan Markley, to name a few.
     Tee times start at 11 a.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sunday for the 60 participants, which range in age from 13-18 and will play in respective age divisions. Spectators are welcome.
     According to Tom Cunningham, the executive director of the JGAA, the tournament wouldn’t be possible without the support of the group it is named after.
     “The Thunderbirds are very much connected with this tournament not only financially, but they volunteer their time to assist with registration, starting, spotting on the course and scoring,’’ noted Cunningham of the civic organization that hosts the FBR Open on the PGA Tour. “This event hones the competitive skills of some of our finest junior golfers, who oftentimes use this event as a springboard for the rest of their JGAA schedule.’’
      The AGA’s first of four major championships of the 2009 season – the Arizona PubLinks Championship — tees off Friday through Sunday at Randolph North Golf Course in Tucson. Michael Wog II of Scottsdale and Andrew Yun of Chandler headline the competition as defending champ Tim Duffey is not in the 144-player field.
      Other top players expected to factor into the chase for the season’s first major include 10-time AGA Player of the Year Ken Kellaney of Phoenix, two-time past major champion Jeremy DeFalco of Tucson, 2007 AGA Player of the Year Chris Kessler of Scottsdale, and two-time PubLinks champ Steve Dallas of Mesa.
     The format calls for 54 holes of individual stroke play with a cut after 36 holes to low 60 and ties. The PubLinks is followed on the major championship schedule by the Arizona Stroke Play Championship on April 15-18 at the TPC Scottsdale Champions Course, the 85th Arizona Amateur Championship on July 20-25 at Southern Dunes Country Club near Maricopa, and the Arizona Mid-Amateur Championship on Sept. 10-12 at Oro Valley Country Club near Tucson.
     The LPGA Phoenix International has a new title – the J Golf LPGA Phoenix International presented by Mirrasou Wines. (Whew!)
     J Golf is the new Korean broadcasting company that signed a major contract with the LPGA several weeks ago, replacing the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) throughout much of the Far East and Asia. But before anyone gets too excited about the title sponsorship issue being resolved in Phoenix, here is what Tom Maletis of the sponsoring Tournament Golf Foundation has to say about the most recent name change.
      “It’s more about being a reward from the LPGA for J Golf signing with them,’’ Maletis said. “Since we got assistance from the LPGA in financing this year’s event at Papago, they had the right to bring in a title sponsor if they wanted to.
      “But (the name change) doesn’t help us financially in looking for a title sponsor in the future. We’re still looking!’’
      Apparently J Golf will be the title sponsor of a new LPGA event in Los Angeles in 2010. And with SBS gone from the LPGA fold, so is the LPGA’s annual stop in Hawaii.
      Stay tuned, as the search in Phoenix picks up steam when the event will be held here March 26-29. Tickets at $20 each will be available at the gate at Papago, or can be purchased for a 20 percent discount ($16 each) at Walgreen’s or prior to the event.