Thunderbird International Junior: A Memorial Day tradition like no other

Agustina Zeballos and Norman Xiong shoot under par at Grayhawk to claim titles

Agustina Zeballos and Norman Xiong hoist the championship trophies.

Every Memorial Day weekend for the last 17 years, the world’s best junior golfers have gathered at Grayhawk Golf Club to compete in the Thunderbird International Junior. This 54-hole, stroke-play tournament – a Major on the American Junior Golf Association’s schedule – features an international field of 78 players (48 boys and 30 girls) ages 12-19 representing 18 states and 13 countries. 

This year, after a final round that came down to the 18th hole in both the Girls and the Boys Divisions, Agustina Zeballos of Buenos Aries, Argentina, and Norman Xiong of Canyon Lake, California, were crowned as the 2016 champions.

Zeballos held a commanding lead in the Girls Division for the majority of the final round; however, hard-charging Alyaa Abdulghany of Newport Beach, California, birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to pull within one stroke heading into the final hole. A par on the 18th sealed the victory for Zeballos at 5-under-par 211. Abdulghany finished second with a three-round score of 4-under-par 212. Isabella Fierro of Merida, Mexico, and Kaitlyn Papp of Austin, Texas, finished tied for third at even-par 216.  

Down the stretch in the Boys Division, three players were in contention to win with two holes left to play. Xiong and Noah Goodwin of Corinth, Texas, were tied for first heading into the final hole where Xiong saved a difficult par to secure the victory at 9-under-par 207.  

Goodwin and Cooper Dossey of Austin, Texas, finished in a tie for second at 8-under-par 208. Dossey made a run on the back nine, carding birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 17 and nearly tied Xiong and Goodwin on his final hole of the day.  

Two locals competed in the tournament: Brock Goyen of Gilbert and Michael Feagles of Scottsdale. Goyen finished T42 for the event (81-73—231). The Highland High senior adds that to a couple recent second-place finishes including the JGAA’s Charlie Beljan Invitational in April and the AJGA’s Winn Grips Heather Farr Classic hosted by Longbow Golf Club in March. Goyen verbally committed to play golf for BYU in the fall. 

Feagles finished in 13th place this year after notching a 9th place finish last year. Committed to play golf in the fall for the University of Illinois, the Brophy College Preparatory School standout posted one of the biggest wins of his career in the 2015 at the Arizona Stroke Play Championship, which he followed this year with a runner-up performance.  

“As always, it was amazing to see these kids play golf,” said Joe Shershenovich director of golf for Grayhawk. “They’re just so talented, and it’s fun to guess who will be the next Ryan Moore or Rickie Fowler or Paula Creamer or Morgan Pressel. They all competed in the event. And, no doubt, many of the players in this year’s field will go on to compete at the highest level, just like they did.” 

Launched through a partnership between the Phil and Amy Mickelson Charitable Fund and The Thunderbirds – the civic-minded organization that runs the Waste Management Phoenix Open – the tournament bearing their name has grown into one of the most prestigious junior golf tournaments in the world.

“The Thunderbirds have been an integral part of developing junior golf in The Valley of the Sun at all levels from the First Tee of Phoenix to the Junior Golf Association of Arizona, and late in the 1990s we began an affiliation with the American Junior Golf Association,” said Mike Kennedy, tournament chairmen and a member of The Thunderbirds. “This particular event started in 1998 on the 15th tee during a Phoenix Open pro-am. Del Cochran and I were talking to Phil Mickelson, and he basically challenged Del, me and The Thunderbirds to come up with a competitive AJGA event, and the three of us decided that since we’re going to do it, might as well make it the best among all of the AJGA events. And I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and for the generous sponsorship from The Thunderbirds, Under Armour, Grayhawk Golf Club and especially the Phil and Amy Mickelson Charitable Fund.”