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St. Joseph’s Neinhaus captures inaugural St. Louis Junior Invitational golf tournament

Drew Nienhaus made the history books and added to her wardrobe at the same time.

Drew Neinhaus wears her championship coat and holds her trophy for winning the inaugural St. Louis Junior Invitational golf tournament. She is with Ryan Roy, Norwood head pro on the left and Pat Britt, Norwood president (Photo by Jim Healey).

Nienhaus, a St. Joseph’s Academy junior-to-be who lives in St. Albans, won the inaugural St. Louis Junior Invitational golf tournament.

She carded a nine-over 78 in the second round to finish with a two-day total of 155 to win the girls division at Norwood Hills Country Club.

“It is an honor to win this inaugural tournament,” Nienhaus said. “I look forward to defending my title next year.”

The winner not only received a championship plaque. The winner also got a new black blazer.

“I didn’t expect that at all,’ Neinhaus said about getting a sports jacket. “I am pretty tall so the first jacket didn’t fit. It makes the tournament even more special.”

Nienhaus was among the golfers who received emails that were sent to golfers in Missouri and Illinois. The golfers were asked to fill out an application with their golf accomplishments to apply. The committee then evaluated the applicants and sent out invitations to the top golfers.

The goal behind the tournament is to give the area’s top juniors as tournament to test themselves, said Jim McLaughlin, a member of the St. Louis Junior Invitational Committee.

“Although St. Louis has many junior events, only a few lure the very best players,” McLaughlin said. “The one that comes to mind is the AJGA event that occurs annually at the Legends right now. At any point, the AJGA could decide to move the event out of St. Louis or simply discontinue it.

“Our desire was to better identify with St. Louis and permanently fix the championship at Norwood Hills, which has a rich history of great champions and championships.”

McLaughlin noted the idea for this tournament belongs to Bob Phillips. It was his vision and concept that led to the tournament.
Phillips is a longtime rules official in the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association.

Norwood Hills provided the golfers a good test.

“Norwood was very challenging because it is very narrow and we also had to play two different courses,” Nienhaus said. “Normally in a tournament, you play the same course two days in a row, but we didn’t get that advantage of learning the course after our first day.

“We had many players that finished top in their class at their respective high school state championships and players that are the best in their areas.”

Nienhaus won by one stroke. Coming in second was St. Joseph’s Academy junior-to-be Nichole Rallo.

Rallo led Nienhaus by two strokes after the first round when she shot a 75.

“Nicole actually played well the entire tournament, too, and especially on Day 1,” Nienhaus said. “A 75 on that course is a great round.”

Nienhaus still liked her chances going into the second round.

“I knew that if I played steady without any major blowup holes that I had the potential to win,” Nienhaus said.

The two Angels played together.

“It’s always fun to play with your best friends,” Nienhaus said. “Being on the same team in high school we are lucky to get to play with each other a lot and challenge each other. That’s the best part about being on a strong team.”

Nienhaus explained how she won the tournament.

“I think I just played very steady and in the end, every stroke mattered,” Nienhaus said.

Nienhaus recorded a birdie in each round. She birdied No. 4 on the West Course and No. 5 on the East Course.

She also will remember the final hole of the tournament.

“On last day, going into the 18th green watch having everyone watch me win was incredible and so much fun,” Nienhaus said. “I had a long putt uphill and all I knew I needed to do was lag it up there. Thankfully, I did and won the tournament and got to play with amazing players such as Nicole. Winning that tournament will be a memory I remember forever.”
Nienhaus was happy with her tournament play.

“I played well given I had not played that course a lot and there was a lot of trouble holes,” Nienhaus said. “I stayed very consistent over the two days.”

The top three finishers get an automatic invitation to play in next year’s tournament. Nienhaus said “absolutely” she will return to play.

McLaughlin said the event will grow. Norwood Hills will continue to be the course where it will be held.

“Our desire was to better identify with St. Louis and permanently fix the championship at Norwood Hills, which has a rich history of great champions and championships,” McLaughlin said. “As far as major championships and champions, pro or amateur, only Norwood Hills, Bellerive and Old Warson have an extensive history over many decades.”

The tournament is affordable for the juniors, too, McLaughlin said.

“The cost of participating in one or several AJGA events is cost prohibitive to most of the best junior golfers. Usually at a cost of $350 or more, our goal was to provide an opportunity at an affordable cost under $150,” McLaughlin said. “In our first year, the cost was $115. We can afford offering this low cost largely because Norwood Hills sees this as a philanthropic opportunity to give back to junior golfers, locally and nationally.

“In addition, we actively pursue college coaches to come see junior golfers play as we are trying to promote the dreams of playing college golf and possibly even pro golf.”

Nienhaus is glad the event will continue.

“I want to thank the committee that put on this great new tournament,” Nienhaus said. “We need more events like this in St. Louis to showcase these talented golfers and I’m so excited to come back next year.”

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