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WJGS Scores an Ace at the World Golf Hall of Fame

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WJGS Scores an Ace at the World Golf Hall of Fame
With 81 junior golfers from 19 countries, the WJGS American Junior is truly an international event deseerving of being home at the World Golf Hall of Fame (Photo courtesy of WJGS)

Golf Writer Andy Reistetter attended the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and watched the play of the World Golf Junior Series (WJGS) event this week at the World Golf Hall of Fame on the Slammer & Squire golf course. Soon-to-be 2013 LPGA rookie Marina Stuetz, last year's American Junior Girls Champion, was on hand for the festivities as well.

When an event takes place in Shell Hall, the heart of the World Golf Hall of Fame (WGHOF), it is quite special. In that very same entrance way to greatness, the Night of Legends dinner honors the WGHOF Inductees Sunday night before the Induction Ceremony on Monday during THE PLAYERS week. An ambiance emerges amidst the 141 bronze plaques with head shots of the game's influential people and the large display cabinets of the current year inductees.

Both the coach and mother who founded the WJGS—which is also now located in Poland, Germany and South Africa in addition with plans for further expansion in America in 2013—opened the evening program. The coach, Tom Burnett who runs his namesake academy near the WGHOF out of St. Johns Golf & Country Club, was more like the mother, holding up a range finder left out on the course during the day's practice round to find its owner.

The mother, Dr. Susanna Rosswag, was more the coach as she read a quote off the wall in the hall from Bobby Jones: "Golf is usually played with the outward appearance of great dignity. It is, nevertheless, a game of great passion…"

She encouraged the world citizens from 19 different countries to pursue their passion, whether it be as golfers or as much needed natural leaders off the course in government, private enterprise or wherever their hearts, souls and minds lead them.

WJGS founders America's Tom Burnett and Germany's Dr. Susanna Rosswag

Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation—which is the umbrella organization of the WGHOF—the First Tee and the Golf 20/20 initiative, asked each young person in the room "to keep golf as a central part of their lives."

His assessment, based on a 32-year career, is that "the people involved with the sport of golf are without question the best people in the world." He complimented the WJGS with taking a holistic approach and developing the golfers as individual human beings and leaders and concluded his comments by stating that the young people in the room "represent everything that is good of the game of golf."

Marina Stuetz came to the Tom Burnett Academy for three months as final preparation for Q-School at the not too distant LPGA Headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. Tom, a kinesiology major in college knows how to coach and develop a champion, having influenced the likes of Matt Kuchar, Aree Song and Brittany Lincicome.

When first seeing Stuetz—an "Austrian seasonal golfer"—three years ago at the WJGS event in Poland, he took note of her power, her calculating and systematic approach and her strong self knowledge.  While on her bag during the final round of the second stage, he saw her stumble home the final three holes to an 83 and just barely make it to the final stage. They regrouped, and she shot a more consistent 74-71-70-70-71 to finish 11th and earn a ticket to the LPGA in 2013.

The big girl in world junior golf today is another student of Burnett's—Csilla Rozsa of Hungary who finished second on the Slammer & Squire yet came away with Player of the Year and the World Junior Golf No. 1 Ranking. Sophia Zeeb of Germany finished birdie-birdie to beat Rozsa by one stroke and win the American Junior.

Seattle's Marianne Li and her mother Eru are all smiles after a wonderful experience at the Hall of Fame

On the boy's side, Albert Eckhardt of Finland started the final round with a five-stroke lead and held off Poland's Mateusz Gradecki to win by two strokes. Gradecki shot a 1-under 71 and came away with Player of the Year honors. Max Orrin of England finished the year ranked No. 1.

One of the best stories of the week was American Marianne Li of Seattle. One of two First Tee invitees (the other being Kaleb Lester of Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Li travelled southeast with her mother and is no stranger to competitive junior golf. She played in the Nature Valley First Tee Open—a Champions Tour event at Pebble Beach in September—with Canadian pro Jim Rutledge.

While seemingly quiet and shy on Opening Night, she let her clubs do the talking by opening with a 73, leading after Round 1 and finished T3. While the First Tee is committed to reaching 10 million young people by 2017, I wonder how many of us older people will be touched in the next five years by one of the First Tee participants and leaders like Marianne.

The Opening Ceremony of the 2012 WJGS American Junior occurred in front of the display cabinets of this year's WGHOF Inductees: Peter Alliss, Dan Jenkins, Sandy Lyle, Phil Mickelson and Hollis Stacy. In May, the memorabilia of 2013 Inductees—Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Willie Park Jr., Ken Schofield and Ken Venturi—will be revealed. One wonders if Marina Stuetz or one of the 81 international players sitting in Shell Hall will not only play in the 2016 or 2020 Olympics but someday displayed in bronze as well.

The Florida sun shines on the 19 flags represented in the WJGS event at the Slammer & Squire course in St. Augustine, FL.

Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Research and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. He spends time on all four major American golf toursthe PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.

Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.

A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com

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