Palo Alto golfer Ali qualifies for U.S. Junior Amateur Championship


It was a long day for Palo Alto High sophomore Ahmed Ali, who began his qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur at 8:06 a.m. on Monday at the Stanford Golf Course.

Following an opening round 3-under-par 67, Ali made the cut for a second 18 holes. After finishing sometime after 6 p.m., Ali seemed safe with rounds of 67-71 that tied him for second with only four golfers advancing to the championships on July 20-25 at Colleton River Plantation in Bluffton, S.C.

Still, Ali had to wait as a few golfers with a shot at him had yet to finish. Finally, some 12 hours after his day started, Ali finally was rewarded for his efforts -- and patience -- as his 2-under 36-hole total held up for a coveted berth into the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

"I've been waiting 1 1/2-2 hours," Ali said. "I was hoping I'd make it. It ended up paying dividends . . . it was just a feeling of relief. You don't want to put in all that time and come up a shot short."

After finishing his second round, Ali hung out at the course talking to his father, sister and brother plus eventual medalist Eddy Lai of San Jose, who shot 68-68-136. Ali and Devondeep Bling of Ridgecrest (67-71-138) shared second with Logan Lowe of Grass Valley earning the fourth and final qualifying berth with a 139 total.

"I played really well the first 18 and hung in there the second round," said Ali, who had six birdies in the opening round but just one in the second, which included 15 pars and two bogeys. For the day, he had seven birdies, 24 pars and just five bogeys.

"They pushed the tees back in the second round," explained Ali. "I knew anything around par would be good."

Helping him in his quest was the familiarity of the Stanford Golf Course, where Ali missed qualifying for the Junior Amateur the past two years.

"Stanford is one of my favorite courses," Ali said. "Last year I missed by three shots. Two years ago, I think I missed by two. I told myself that three would be a charm."

And it was. With his brother Hussain, 20, providing a calming influence as his caddy, Ali put the ball where he wanted on the long, rolling course. He also stayed out of trouble, with nary a double bogey or worse.

"I just hit my targets," Ali said. "I was putting really well in the first round and actually really well in the second, but just coming up short."

Not short of his goal, however.

"It's one of my biggest goals of the year," Ali said of qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur.

Next up for Ali will be sectional qualifying for the U.S. Amateur on Monday at Diablo Country Club followed by the Junior World tournament in San Diego. Then it's off to South Carolina for the Junior Amateur.

"After having him on the team this past year, that young man has impressed me daily," said Paly golf coach Doyle Knight. "He has a great work ethic and a great attitude. Except for pressure he puts on himself to want to do well, not much rattled him. He just stayed the course and stuck to his game plan. I'm very happy and excited for him . . . he will do well."

Atherton's Max Ting, who like Ali finished up a strong freshman year (at Menlo School), was an early leader when the first golf scores were posted Monday.

Ting toured the par-70 Stanford Golf Course in 4-over 74 after three birdies, seven bogeys and eight pars. Ting was in great shape after starting on the 10th tee and shooting a 1-over 36. He had bogeys on the par-4 12th and par-4 13th holes, followed by birdies on the par-4 15th and par-5 16th. He finished his first nine with a bogey on the 457-yard par-4 18th hole.

Ting's stay atop the qualifiers, however, was short-lived when Ryan Slater of of Gilroy fired a 2-under 68 to take the lead. Cameron Henry of Los Gatos then joined Slater with his own 68.

Ting did make the cut for the afternoon round and improved with a 72 to finish at 6-over 146. That, however, left him seven shots from joining Ali in the Junior Amateur.

Henry Hughes of Palo Alto and Avi Khemani of Los Altos Hills each shot 7-over 77 as both got off to a 3-over start after their opening two holes. Hughes sunk his round with six bogeys and two double-bogeys, but did make three birdies. Khemani finished with six bogeys and one double-bogey to go with a birdie and 10 pars on the long, rolling course.

Neither made the cut for the afternoon round.

Nor did Dakota McNealy of Portola Valley, John Foley of Los Altos Hills and Joonsung Ha of Palo Alto as all shot 9-over 79s.

McNealy had one birdie and 10 pars while Foley finished with one birdie and 11 pars. One bad hole killed each player's chances, however, as Foley had a triple-bogey seven on the 447-yard par-4 fifth and McNealy took eight strokes on the 365-yard, par-4 ninth. Ha suffered three double-bogeys, struggling on his first nine with a 7-over 42.

Colt McNealy finished with an 82 with Atherton's William Hsieh carding an 85 and Oliver Cho of Los Altos Hills finishing at 88.

* * *

Palo Alto High grad Michelle Xie had some solid finishes in June as she took second at the Ryan Moore Junior Championships at Anthem (June 8-11 in Henderson Nev.) with a 71-74-69 effort for a 214 total. She also tied for 16th at the Rolex Tournament of Champions at the Crosswater Course in Sunriver, Ore., on June 22-26 with a 71-72-77-75-295 total.

Ali tied for 14th in the same event in Oregon with a 73-76-73-222 total.

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