Drew Nienhaus was more than happy to add to her wardrobe collection Friday.
The St. Joseph’s Academy junior-to-be carded a nine-over-par 78 to finish with a two-day total of 155 to win the girls division of the inaugural St. Louis Junior Invitational golf tournament at Norwood Hills Country Club.
With her win came a plaque and a new black blazer.
“We had to struggle with the length of the arms for me, but now I have a good size, so it’s good,” the St. Albans resident said. “I knew there was a jacket involved, but I didn’t know I’d be getting it today. I was so excited.”
Nienhaus came into the day trailing by two strokes after a 77 on Day 1, but was able to come away with a one-stroke victory.
“I knew going into the second day that I could definitely win this,” she said. “The last couple holes, I just had to bear down. Thankfully, I won. It’s such a great feeling.”
Nienhaus’ teammate at St. Joe’s, fellow junior-to-be Nicole Rallo, was the one who held the lead coming in to Friday after an opening round 75. A tough start to Round 2 had Rallo scrambling to stay afloat, but she rebounded to card an 81 to finish just one stroke back of Nienhaus.
“I wasn’t expecting anything or saying it was in the bag. I was gonna do what I could with whatever the course gives me,” said Rallo, a Josephville resident. “Unfortunately, today I was in a lot of unfortunate places. But, I grinded it out and turned my game around on my back nine and it ended up way better for me.”
The duo was happy to see St. Joe’s golfers go 1-2, another feather in the cap of the three-time defending Class 2 champion Angels.
“I love watching her,” Rallo said. “Today, she played unbelievable and I’m happy for her.”
Nienhaus added, “I hadn’t played with Nicole in a while and it was just so much fun. She’s my best friend and she’s such a good player.”
The boys champion was Quincy Notre Dame junior-to-be Alex McCulla. This year’s Illinois Class 2A runner-up fired an even par 71 on Thursday and a two-over-par 71 on Friday (the rounds were played on two separate courses at Norwood Hills) to shoot a 142 and win by four strokes.
“I don’t really play in the St. Louis area that much. I guess for high school a couple times I’ve been down to Alton. And I used to play in the Gateway (Jr. PGA) events every once in a while,” McCulla said. “It’s good competition and a deep field. It’s good to come down and play against different players than usual.”
The highest area boys finish came from Marquette senior-to-be Jack Cronin, who finished second with a 145. The runner-up finish matched his showing at the recent Class 4 tournament.
“I played good solid golf both rounds. I had a four-putt today. That was pretty bad. But other than that, it was pretty good,” Cronin said. “State definitely gave me some momentum, so hopefully it keeps going and I can keep playing some good golf.”
The idea for the St. Louis Junior Invitational came from Bob Phillips, a longtime rules official in the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association.
“He wanted to basically build and create what he hoped in time would be the No. 1 junior in the Midwest,” said tournament co-chair Jim McLaughlin. “He wanted it to be affordable to any player. He wanted to make sure public course players, as well as private course players, could equally get into it with money as no obstacle.”
A year ago, players could register into a player pool and then were later chosen for the tournament by a selection committee. McLaughlin said word started to spread about the new event at the Missouri boys championships in May, but the selection process had already closed.
“Not that we didn’t have great golfers today, because we did, but we expect next year that the talent level is gonna significantly increase,” McLaughlin said.
The top three finishers get an automatic invitation to play in next year’s tournament, as long as they haven’t aged out, and they all gave the new event an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
“I thought this tournament was run so well,” Nienhaus said. “There was tons of talent in this tournament. It was so much fun.”
Rallo added, “This is an awesome tournament. This is so cool. The whole jacket thing and there were just really good players in it.”
“I had never heard of this tournament and I was just glad to get invited to it,” Cronin said. “It was a great experience.”