Late April is really the peak of the junior golf season. In the last two weeks of the month, the Aiken area is fortunate to play host to not one but two premier tournaments featuring some of the very best junior golfers.A week ago, the top juniors from around the world were at Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville participating in the second Junior Invitational. Starting this morning, many of the very best junior golfers in South Carolina will be playing in an event with even more history. A field of 104 golfers from across the state and the CSRA will tee off this morning at Palmetto Golf Club in the 38th Annual Southern Cross Golf Tournament."We believe this is the strongest field we have had in years and clearly contains the best junior golfers in South Carolina," said Joe Spencer, who is in charge of publicity for the Southern Cross. "We have a team award and an individual award, and both are important, but we put emphasis on this as a team event."Twenty-four high school teams compose the field for this year's Southern Cross, a 36-hole event that will tee off today and Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Each team has four players, and the top three scores will be counted each day toward the team total. Titles will be awarded for the top team and overall individual.The field includes the squads from North Augusta, South Aiken and Aiken high schools. The defending champions from Chapin will also be back.In addition, seven standout individual golfers have been invited to join the field because they play for high school teams that didn't qualify.Although honoring the top teams is the focus, the Southern Cross has a prestigious list of previous individual medalist winners. Most have gone on to strong college golf careers, and some have had success playing on professional tours. The list of past medalists includes three-time winner Jonathan Byrd, as well as Tommy Biershenk, Charles Warren, Kyle Thompson, Ben Martin and Aiken resident Stephen Poole. Former South Aiken golfers Alex Hamilton and Kevin Kisner also captured the top individual prize in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002, respectively.The past two individual winners are in this year's field. Last year's medalist, Chapin's Will Starke, will be in the same threesome today with 2010 champion Cody Proveaux.Blythewood's Josh Lorenzetti will also be in the 1 p.m. tee time, joining Starke and Proveaux, the Leesville resident and senior at Pelion High School who is the No. 1 ranked junior in South Carolina. Starke and Proveaux are two of the top eight junior golfers from the Palmetto State participating in the tournament.Another top South Carolina junior in the field is Matt NeSmith. The North Augusta senior has played in the tournament the past two years and has posted individual rounds of 68. Last year, he finished tied for third place a week after playing in the Junior Invitational. The South Carolina commitment will participate in both events again this year after tying for second-place at Sage Valley last week."It's exhausting. I'm tired, but it's awesome to play this well consistently," NeSmith said after last year's Southern Cross.NeSmith is one of three players who participated in last week's Junior Invitational and will be at Palmetto the next two days. He'll be joined by Proveaux and Austin Langdale, a Townville resident and a Pendleton High School student. Langdale tied for 20th at the Junior Invitational and is one of two Pendleton players ranked in the top eight in South Carolina. His teammate Carson Young is also an elite player and showed that last year when he tied NeSmith for third behind Proveaux, who lost to Starke on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff.The other top three rated players in this year's tournament include Riverside's Jonathan Hardee, Fort Dorchester's Grant Waggoner and Dorman's Blake Kennedy. Josh Melton of Williston-Elko is one of the seven individual competitors in this year's field. Overall, the tournament features 16 of the top 25 players in South Carolina and 25 of top 50."We've got a really strong field," Spencer said. "It's interesting to see how they do. I anticipate a fun and exciting tournament."Part of what sets the Southern Cross apart from other tournaments is Palmetto. The historic golf course isn't like most of the places these juniors regularly play. According to Spencer, it's in top condition."It looks the best I've ever seen it at this time of year," Spencer said, crediting the warm weather over the winter on the course that will play at 6,380 yards. "The golf course is in wonderful shape."Spencer said the tournament is free to the public, and they're encouraged to fill the galleries.Noah Feit is a reporter for the Aiken Standard, primarily covering sports, and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.38th ANNUAL SOUTHERN CROSS GOLF TOURNAMENTTeam inviteesAiken, Blythewood, Chapin, Christ School, Dorman, Dutch Fork, Easley, Eastside, Emerald, Fort Dorchester, A.C. Flora, Gaffney, Greenville, Greenwood, T.L. Hanna, Lexington, J.L. Mann, North Augusta, Oakwood Prep, Pendleton, Pelion, Riverside, South Aiken, WrenIndividual invitees(From teams that didn't qualify)Drake Cassidy (Hartsville), Wesley Long (Bluffton), John Melton (Williston-Elko), Ben Miller (Central), Christian Sease (Wando), Carson Spears (Richmond Academy), Austin Terry (Central)PAST CHAMPIONSYEAR TEAM INDIVIDUAL1975 North Augusta Dave Moore, North Augusta1976 Wheeler Griff Moody, Athens Academy1977 Hardaway John Hammond, Hardaway1978 Hardaway Scott Goodman, Aiken1979 Hardaway Tony Nimmer, Thomas Heyward1980 UMS Fred Wadsworth, Brookstone1981 UMS Doug McLeod, UMS1982 Walton High Hugh Royer, Brookstone1983 North Augusta Clay Malcolm, Marist1984 Warner Robins Ben Baggett, Warner Robins1985 Spartanburg Wayne Woolfall, Baylor1986 Wando Raymond Franz, Wando1987 Irmo Mark Steeleman, Lexington1988 Spring Valley Chip Whitt, Greenwood1989 Lexington Tom Agazzi, Irmo1990 South Aiken Lee Mason, Union1991 Columbus Tommy Biershenk, Boiling Springs1992 South Aiken David Seawell, South Aiken1993 T.L. Hanna Charles Warren, A.C. Flora1994 J.L. Mann Jonathan Byrd, Spring Valley1995 Walterboro Jonathan Byrd, Spring Valley1996 Richmond Acad. Jonathan Byrd, Spring Valley1997 Easley Kyle Thompson, Easley1998 West Florence Kyle Bradley, North Augusta1999 South Aiken Seth Layden, Bamberg-Ehrhardt2000 Travelers Rest Stephen Poole, Spartanburg2001 South Aiken Alex Hamilton, South Aiken2002 South Aiken Kevin Kisner, South Aiken2003 T.L. Hanna Nick Hughey, Gaffney2004 Easley Baker Elmore, Cheraw2005 T.L. Hanna Ben Martin, Greenwood2006 Gaffney Josh Gallman, Gaffney2007 A.C. Flora Wesley Bryan, Dutch Fork2008 Dutch Fork Wesley Bryan, Dutch Fork2009 Dutch Fork Mark Joye, Dutch Fork2010 Sumter Cody Proveaux, Pelion2011 Chapin Will Starke, Chapin
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