First-timers claim AJGA All-Star wins

Event held at Hunter Ranch for second time

PASO ROBLES — It did not take long for Lana Calibuso-Kwee to put her stamp on the American Junior Golf Association.

The 15-year-old star from Wailuku, Hawaii, was overcome with emotion Thursday afternoon after learning she’d won the AJGA Junior All-Star Tournament at Hunter Ranch.

Calibuso-Kwee birdied the 330-yard, par-4 18th hole to secure not only her first win stateside, but her first AJGA win.

“I want to thank God and my grandparents for bringing me here and believing in me,” Calibuso-Kwee said. “For eight years, I have worked so hard, and today my work finally paid off.”

Playing in windy conditions, she took the driver out of her bag for the second time in the round and drove the ball to within 78 yards of the green.

From there she hit a wedge to within 12 feet of the pin and then calmly, at least she looked calm to the spectators, sank the birdie putt to finish with a 4-over par 76 and a three-day, 2-over par 218 total.

“My hands were shaking on the last hole because I knew we were tied,” Calibuso-Kwee said. “I was 78 yards out and just needed to get it close so I could birdie, and I did and I’m really happy. That putt was super scary, but I made it.”

She edged three other girls who finished a stroke back with a three-day total of 219.

Calibuso-Kwee nearly saw her hopes of winning the event slip away during a seven-hole stretch of bogeys in the middle of her final round. She righted her round down the stretch, finishing with four-straight pars and the winning birdie.

She opened the day with birdies on the second and sixth holes.

For the tournament, Calibuso-Kwee had 11 birdies. She took the lead in the tournament and earned a spot in the final group of the day, by shooting a 2-under par 70 in the second round on Wednesday.

Calibuso-Kwee is two-time Hawaii State Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, earning the honor in 2016 and 2017.

Estibaly Garcia Rubio, of San Diego, was 3-over for the tournament and was the top California girl player. She finished the event tied for second with Ashley Yun, of West Covina, and Jordyn Parr, of Temecula — all at 3-over.

Claire Xu of Washington shot a 3-under 69 to take low-round honors on the final day.

On the boys side, Darien Zhao, of San Diego, also avoided a playoff with a par on the final hole to win his first AJGA event.

“I knew I just needed to par it and once I was in the fairway I felt pretty calm,” Zhao said, who had his only double bogey of the tournament on the 18th the day before. “It was a pretty good week. The last two holes the wind picked up and made it a little difficult.”

Zhao kept his drive in the fairway on 18, was on the green in two, and two-putted from outside of 25 feet to claim the victory. He nearly birdied the final hole, but his putt slid just below the hole.

Zhao, who was born in Canada, finished with a 1-under 70 on Thursday and was 6-under for the tournament. He had three birdies and 14 pars in his final round. The birdies came on the par-5, 509-yard fifth, the par-4, 323-yard 10th, and the par-5, 518-yard 15th.

Zhao, who took the lead after the second round, was under par in all three rounds. He shot a 71 on Tuesday and a 69 on Wednesday. He had 13 birdies, including six in the second round, over the three days.

“The opportunity to play AJGA events has proven that I can compete at a high level,” Zhao said. “I am so thankful for everyone who has worked with me on this journey, and I look forward to success in the future.”

Zhao has been a San Diego Junior Golf Association champion since 2011. His best career finish at an AJGA event was tied for fourth earlier this year at Tathata Golf Junior All-Star Championship.

Alexander Gibalevich, of Studio City, and Ian Fritz, of Las Vegas, playing in the second-to-last group of the day, put the pressure on Zhao, by carding 66 and 67, respectively, to finish second and third in the event.

Gibalevich had the low round of the final day and was also the top California boy player. He was 5-under for the tournament and Fritz was 4-under. Gibalevich had five birdies and an eagle in the final round.

This was the second time Hunter Ranch Golf Course hosted the AJGA Junior All-Star at Hunter Ranch. Sixty players from California competed in the event.


© 2019-Paso Robles Press

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