Roommates, friends share lead after Day 1 of AJGA event




Maya Walton and Maddy Rayner are traveling roommates while playing the summer junior golf circuit.

They also are students at the Jim McLean Junior Golf Academy in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton is from Austin, and Rayner, from nearby Southlake, Texas, and that's where the two became acquainted earlier this year.

The now two close friends find themselves in the unusual, but enviable position of sitting atop the leaderboard after the opening round Tuesday of the AJGA Kansas Junior Championship at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course. Both finished with stellar 2-under-par 70s.

With the 30-player girls' division getting the benefit of early tee times, the wind that blew 40 mph later in the day was only blowing at about 10 mph when they teed off just after 7 a.m. Eventually they played in wind that increased to 18-26 mph.

For Walton, the key to her round was keeping the ball in the fairways and having a good putting round.

"You learn to stay out of the rough and hit the fairways if you want to have a good round," Walton said.

It's been a quick learning curve for the 16-year-old as she played her first round on the Dunes layout in Sunday's qualifier, struggling in with an 88 on another windy day. On Monday, as part of the Junior-Am, she improved 15 shots with a 73.

"I wasn't upset with the 88. I was just seeing the course for the first time," Walton said. "It's important to know where you don't want to be."

Her round on Tuesday included three birdies and a pair of bogeys on the front nine, and then came home with two birdies and one bogey on the back nine.

"I've just been trying to hit the ball lower and not swing really hard," Walton said. "Here, you want the ball to get down quickly and you want to land the ball short and let it roll up and make sure to have uphill putts."

The pair said they were happy for each other's round, sharing the lead will be an experience neither has had at an AJGA event.

"Being tied for the lead feels good and I feel confident," Walton said. "I've never been in the lead at this big of an event, so it's something new for me to experience."

Rayner, who used her length to overpower several of the holes, leaving her short wedge shots into the par-4s, said she was happy to be in front, sharing the lead with her good friend.

"I finished ahead of her and I was sitting in here (clubhouse) checking the scores and saw she (Walton) was 2-under through 17," Rayner said. "I went out to the final hole to watch her finish and was just saying, 'please don't bogey 18.' It's kinda cool to share the lead with her. Tomorrow, it's all about going out and enjoying the day and whatever I shoot, I shoot."

Her five birdies came on the second, sixth, 12th, 16th and 18th holes, while she had one bogey on the par-3 fourth and a double-bogey at the short, par-5 13th.

"I had 250 into the green, and rather than hitting my 5-wood, I pulled out the 3-wood and just blocked it into the stuff (native grass)," Rayner said. "I knew I was still even par after that, so I just let it go. I probably should have hit the other club, but I didn't."

Rayner said she played in the event a year ago, but couldn't recall her finish, saying that this was easily her best round of the four she has played at the Dunes.

"I've never been leading, so this is new," Rayner said. "It will be a fun evening."

The Texas duo have two-shot leads over a pair of golfers — Courtney Dow of Frisco, Texas, and Yujeong Son of South Korea (Norman, Okla.). Three players are at 73, including Alisa Chong of Carrolton, Texas; Emilee Hoffman of Folsom, Calif. and Julia Durkin of Miramar, Fla.

While the two leaders sat at a table, discussing their rounds, there was the usual good-natured kidding about sharing a hotel room.

"Well, if you don't see Maddy in the morning, don't come looking for me," joked Walton. "Guess I'll have to keep one eye open tonight."

Her roomie and good friend just smiled.

"Well, it shall be an interesting night," Rayner said with a big smile. "You know, I chauffeur her around."

So, the two leaders will be back at it today, with round two scheduled and the tournament concludes on Thursday to cap off the 54-hole tournament.

"She does need a ride to the course, so I guess I'll have to bring her," Rayner also said with a big smile. "We're rooting for each other."

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