GREENSBORO — After a trip to the The Cardinal last year because of winterkill, the city’s 18th annual American Junior Golf Association invitational tournament returns to Sedgefield this week.

The Wyndham Invitational Presented by BB&T is considered a “major” on the AJGA schedule, with a field of 72 boys who rank among the nation’s best 12- to 19-year-old golfers competing in a four-round, stroke-play tournament Tuesday through Friday.

Admission is free. If you go, here's what to watch for this week at Sedgefield …

Future pros

There are 86 golfers on the PGA Tour right now who played at this event as teenagers. If you’re even a casual golf fan, you know some of these names. Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka (2007). Masters champions Jordan Spieth (2008-09) and Patrick Reed (2006-07). U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (2002-04). PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas (2008-10). Four-time Ryder Cup player Rickie Fowler.

“This (tournament) is right up there at the top for us,” tournament director Tyler Sumner of the AJGA says. “You look at the guys who have played here, and it’s really a who’s who of professional golf. … The community has latched onto this event. We’ll have over 100 volunteers out here, and that’s pretty unheard of at our events at the junior level. To have that much support and all the history makes this a staple on our schedule, something we look forward to every year.”

Defending champ

Karl Vilips of Perth, Australia, is the No. 1 player in the AJGA rankings and also No. 34 in the R&A World Amateur Rankings. The 17-year-old rising senior at Saddlebrook Prep in Florida has lived in the United States since age 11 and is committed to play college golf at Stanford. This will be his fourth consecutive start in Greensboro, where he has finished third, fourth and first. He’s the favorite this week.

“He’s definitely the best player in junior golf right now,” Sumner says, “and he’s been in the conversation for the last few years. We expect him to have a good week. He’s been playing good golf.”

Loaded field

Seventeen Rolex All-Americans are in the field, including three-time honoree Vilips. Jackson Van Paris of Pinehurst, the AJGA’s No. 6 player and the Carolinas Golf Association’s No. 3, is a two-time All-American. So are Canon Claycomb, Jackson Rivera and China’s Sampson-Yunhe Zheng.

And if you break it down by high school graduating class, you find plenty of ranked players.

  • 2019: Six of top 25 (a high number, considering graduated seniors typically move up to amateur events the summer before college)
  • 2020: 13 of top 25
  • 2021: 15 of top 25
  • 2022: Seven of top 10

Wyndham connection

Once upon a time, the winner of this event got a sponsor’s exemption to play in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. The most notable was Justin Thomas, who made the cut as a 16-year-old in 2009.

Those days are gone because the date makes the PGA’s Wyndham vital to the pros trying to maintain or improve their status. So the tournament’s policy is no amateurs.

But tournament director Mark Brazil’s roots are in the AJGA, and he continues to scout for talent at Greensboro’s junior major.

“The AJGA kids are starting to realize, these are the kids I’m going to be giving spots to when they turn pro, the kids I’m going to be taking care of,” Brazil said. “Because those are the ones we’re going to create relationships with. And these sponsor exemptions are a huge deal for a kid just starting out as a pro. A huge deal. We had five (AJGA alums get exemptions) last year. I’ve been either criticized or celebrated because I give my spots to younger kids for the most part.”

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Contact Jeff Mills at (336) 373-7024, and follow @JeffMillsNR on Twitter.

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