Youths polish games at Western Junior

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — James Piot was on the hitting range at Red Run Golf Club on Tuesday, minutes from starting the first round of the Western Junior Championship.

A senior this fall at Detroit Catholic Central High, Piot hopes his knowledge of the course — he has played it a handful of times — helps him make some noise.

“I’ve played four or five times, and the key out here is to hit the fairway,” said Piot, 17. “There’s a lot of trees overhanging the rough and all that stuff. The rough is pretty thick out here, too, a lot of fairway bunkers and around the greens, so the key is to keep it in play and stay below the hole.”

It also helps Piot played in last year’s tournament in Chicago — and finished seventh.

“I struck the ball really nice and putted well,” said Piot, who has committed to Michigan State. “I did everything well, but I kind of gave it away a bit at the end since I was tied for the lead going into the final round.

“I had a solid tournament. ... I’m hoping to do the same here.”

The field will be cut to 44 after today’s second round, with the remaining golfers playing 36 holes Thursday.

Among the golfers expected to have a say in the winner is S.M. Lee, ranked 10th overall and third in his class.

“This is my first time in Michigan,” said Lee, from Buford, Ga. “I’ve heard of this course, that it’s a great course that is very score-able, but one that can get you sometimes. I was born in the north, New York, so I’m used to this kind of weather and this kind of course.

“I feel like these junior tournaments are helping me a lot. This is my first time at this event, and there’s a lot of great players that I have already met. This is one of the biggest tournaments in the world right now. Junior tournaments, they have point systems and this is the highest ranked point system right now.”

Lee, 18, plans to play at South Carolina or Auburn.

Edwin Kuang is one of the youngest golfers in the field, at 14.

“As soon as I got the invitation in the mail I was pretty excited,” said Kuang, from of Murrieta, Calif. “It’s like the first time I’ve gotten invited to this kind of event. ... I know this is a really strong field. This is just a neat learning experience for me. I know I have a lot more time. I just have to build up that experience and know how to play in this type of event.”

Kuang enjoyed his practice round Monday with Lee.

“He’s a nice, outgoing guy, really fun to play with,” Kuang said. “He has a carefree attitude; that’s how golf should be. It should be a fun game where everyone in the group is having fun, not some stare-down type of thing.

Kuang’s mother, Vikki Mi, is his caddie, and the two will be staying with her brother, Qing-Sheng Mi, who is a physician/scientist at Detroit Henry Ford Hospital.

And they hope to make a return trip Aug. 15-21 — for the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club.

“I’m definitely going to try and qualify for that, have to be in a qualifier and then get like top four to get in,” Kuang said. “That would be an awesome experience.”