By Alex Podlogar
PINEHURST, North Carolina – Aneka Seumanutafa didn’t want to put her Putter Boy trophy down.
She had carried it from the Pinehurst parking lot, through the clubhouse, out the doors onto the veranda and then up a ridge overlooking the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 2 to have her champions photo shot after winning the 39th Girls North & South Junior Championship on Wednesday.
She held the trophy close while the photographer snapped portraits, and finally, when told she could rest a moment and put it down, Seumanutafa deferred.
“No thanks,” she said, a smile still painted on her face. “I’d like to keep holding it.”
Seumanutafa can’t be blamed for not wanting the let the moment go. After all, she had worked incredibly hard for the chance at Pinehurst history.
After three rounds of stroke play, with the first round on No. 2 and the second and third rounds on No. 6, Seumanutafa was 13 under par – and 13 shots ahead of third place.
She was also tied with Brooke Sansom and headed to a playoff.
“We just kept pushing each other for three days,” Seumanutafa said. “We played together in the second and third rounds, and it seemed like she would make a birdie, and then I would make a birdie.”
They both made birdie on the 18th hole of No. 6 to share the lead after 54 holes. Both players shot 67 in the final round, with Seumanutafa shooting 31 on her last nine and Samson closing in 30.
But Seumanutafa, 16, from Frederick, Maryland, made birdie again on the 18th to finally edge Sansom, of Montgomery, Alabama, who will play collegiately at Auburn.
It’s not Seumanutafa’s first trip to Pinehurst. She played in the Women’s North & South Amateur last year and played in numerous U.S. Kids events in the area as well. Seumanutafa will also play the Women’s North & South Amateur again this year. That tournament begins on Monday.
“This really boosted my confidence,” she said. “It’s a really tough tournament and field, but now I feel like I can compete with a lot of the players.”
And for Seumanutafa, a native of Hawaii, winning at Pinehurst was extra special.
“What do I think of when I think of Pinehurst? Payne Stewart, and of course, Michelle Wie,” she said.
Mercer recruit and French native Lino Galdin fired a 4-under 68 on Pinehurst No. 8 on Wednesday to hold off a charge by Cole Ponich to win the 39th Boys’ North & South Junior Championship at Pinehurst.
Ponich eagled the par-5 17th hole and made birdie on the difficult 18th, but it wasn’t enough to catch Galdin, who also shot 68 on No. 8 in the championship’s first round and then followed with a 71 on No. 2 on Tuesday.
“I just love it here,” Galdin said. “To have won at such a prestigious venue like Pinehurst means so much to me. This is definitely my biggest win.”
Galdin, who moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina, two years ago, is a decorated junior player. In 2016, he finished among the top 10 eight times in 15 tournaments, and in 2015, he won three times.
Both Seumanutafa and Galdin are now eligible to play in the 2018 Women’s and Men’s North & South Amateur championships, respectively.