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Tri-Valley golfers win PGA Jr. Championship

Las Positas ACE Junior Team dominates final in Arizona

Ten young golfers from the Las Positas ACE Junior Team have brought home the national title after controlling Team Georgia in the final match of the 2016 PGA Junior League Golf National Championship tournament in Arizona.

This marked the second national title in five years for the ACE (Athletic Commitment to Excellence) team program, which trains at Las Positas Golf Course in Livermore. ACE golfers won in 2012, plus posted a second-place finish the following year.

The 2016 ACE team consists of boys and girls 12 to 14 years old from communities like Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon and as far away as Fresno. They were among 80 young players on eight teams competing in the championship event Nov. 19-21 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"These kids fight," Jeff DeBenedetti, Las Positas' director of golf who heads up the junior program, said in a statement released by the PGA of America after the event. "They grind. They go after it."

Competing as Team California, the ACE golfers opened the tournament by winning the Wanamaker Division in round-robin play with a record of 2-0-1 during the first two days.

That set up a showdown with Team Georgia, which won the opposing Ryder Division at 3-0 in round-robin play. The squad from Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta, was looking to rebound after a tough loss in a playoff in last year's tournament.

In the final Nov. 21, the Las Positas team got out to an early lead and never looked back, formally winning eight points to four in the team match-play contest.

They locked up the title mathematically with plenty of golf left to play when Pleasanton's Alice Liu sank a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-4 sixth hole in her two-person scramble match-up. Liu said she wasn't even aware her short putt was the potential championship-clincher when she was lining it up.

"When I was setting up to the ball, I just wanted to make it," she added. "When everyone started jumping and cheering, that's when I realized it was the winning putt."

ACE team families cheered "Go Las Po!" throughout the morning final, which was played with a fast-approaching desert storm.

"They heard the cheering, and they kept going because they knew it was for them. It was fun to watch," DeBenedetti said.

For Pleasanton player Drew Kim, this marked his second PGA Junior League Golf National Championship. The 13-year-old, who sent his team to nationals with a clinching putt at regionals, was also a member of the title-winning 2012 ACE team when he was 9.

"Drew has always been a solid player," DeBenedetti said. "Drew's golf age is about 4-5 years older than his actual age. He's a competitor. It's great for him to work for four years, and get back."

In addition to Liu and Kim, the 2016 champions consisted of Darren Pang, Anay Roge and Jacob Ponce of San Ramon, Madison Wu of Dublin, Ethan Jaehn of Fremont, Austin Tran and Aidan Tran of Fresno and Ian Gillian of Corte Madera.

The championship consisted of matches of two-person scramble format match play, over nine holes with one point up for grabs every three holes per match -- translating to four matches of two-person teams, for a total of 12 available points.

To learn more about the competition or see photos and highlights, visit www.pgajlg.com.

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