By AJ Mazzolini
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Maria Mancini entered in two American Junior Golf Association tournaments this summer to see how she could compete against other top high-school golfers from Ohio and across the country.
It turns out, someone was watching her, too.
During the Cleveland Junior Open in June, Mancini finished seventh, impressing herself and Indiana coach Clint Wallman, who offered her a scholarship after she graduates in 2012.
Mancini, who committed to Indiana a week ago, finished her second AJGA tournament of the summer yesterday at the Columbus Junior presented by the Memorial Tournament. She shot 78 at the Ohio State Scarlet Course, giving her a total of 236 to finish eighth.
Though she has already committed, other high-school golfers still hoped to get noticed. Scouts and coaches representing more than 15 universities surveyed the newest batch of collegiate talent. Universities ranged from as close as Ohio State to as far as New Mexico.
"That's the main goal of AJGA, to get these kids exposure to coaches," said Curt Haag, tournament director for the Columbus Junior.
The AJGA has more than 60 open tournaments each year, but golfers are restricted to entering five events. This doesn't include invitation-only tournaments, Haag said, which handpick the best golfers.
By restricting entrants to a handful of events, the AJGA hopes to allow a greater number of golfers to play and get noticed, he said. Plenty of other organizations hold tournaments as well, so there's never a shortage of rounds to play.
Most players competing on the AJGA tour, which accepts golfers 18 and younger, will only enter one or two events per year, Haag said. It's players reaching the end of their high-school careers that you see at tournament after tournament.
"The biggest time here is for the rising seniors," he said. "That's the point when they really want to narrow down school choices."
One rising senior, Satoshi Tanaka, 17, of Dublin Coffman, saw his stock climb swiftly during the final day. After two decent rounds of 74 and 76, he birdied his final two holes yesterday for a 2-under-par 69 to push him into a tie for seventh place.
Tanaka said he was happy to perform well in front of the college recruiters because he hasn't committed yet.
"I'm still trying to find a place to play college golf," Tanaka said. "This is my last tournament before the high-school season starts in August."
Tanaka is no rookie to the AJGA, having already competed in three tournaments. After playing in Cleveland, Texas and Kentucky, yesterday's finish was his best of the year.
"I played well last year here too," Tanaka said of the 2010 tournament at the Country Club at Muirfield Village. "You get to sleep in your own bed, and that must help."
Playing in the first group yesterday, Grogan shot a 1-under-par 70 for a three-stroke lead over another player from the first group, Kendall Prince. Prince, from Lake Oswego, Ore., plans to enroll at Ohio State in the fall.
"When you're in the first group, you can set the pace," said Grogan, a recent Watterson graduate.
Average scores for each grouping of three worsened consistently from 78 in the morning to more than 85 per golfer by the final group, which teed up an hour later.
One culprit might be the weather, Grogan said. Temperatures soared to about 90 degrees by midday with high humidity, just when the earliest groups were finishing their rounds.
In the early morning, though, the weather was far more pleasant, Grogan said, with the course still a little wet from Monday's rainfall. The moisture kept the greens from being too fast, which helped golfers be more aggressive on approach shots and putts.
Despite reservations about the early start, Grogan said course conditions played to her strengths.
"It was an early morning for me, and just trying to get loose by 7 a.m. was interesting," Grogan said. "But it turned out to be a good morning."
The trend of early success didn't carry over to the boys division, whose pairings began play just before 8:30 a.m.
The first boys group scored well, among the best of the day with an average stroke count of about 74, but later groups matched and exceeded the mark.
The boys played in more similar course conditions to each other, said Alex Carpenter, a 2011 St. Charles graduate.
The fairways and greens had nearly all dried by late morning when Carpenter was a few holes into his round.
"You would have never known it rained as much as it did yesterday," said Carpenter, who tied for second place last year when the tournament was held at the Country Club at Muirfield Village.
Carpenter shot a 76 to fall to the middle of the pack, seven strokes behind Tee-k Kelly of Wheaton, Ill., the only golfer who broke par in the boys division.
Carpenter said that even though most golfers saw similar greens conditions, there were benefits to teeing off earlier in the day.
"Toward the end, the heat at times was pretty unbearable," Carpenter said, adding he used his towel more often to wipe away sweat from his arms than dirt or mud from his ball.
"I definitely think guys in the morning had a bit of an advantage. Plus, by the time we got to No. 17, the wind was really picking up."
As the second round gets under way at the same time this morning, weather should be less of a factor. Highs are forecast around 80 degrees with temperatures much closer to 70 degrees at the first tee time.