Grayhawk hosts the world’s best junior golfers at the Thunderbird International Junior

2014 champions Maddie Szeryk and Andy Zhangtrophypics

Every Memorial Day weekend for the last 16 years, the world’s best junior golfers have gathered at Grayhawk Golf Club to compete in the Thunderbird International Junior – an event that has grown into the most prestigious junior golf tournament in the world. The driving force behind the tournament’s unparalleled success is one of the American Junior Golf Association’s (AJGA) most notable alumni and three-time Masters Champion, Phil Mickelson. Lefty played AJGA golf from 1985-1989 – posting 12 victories in 26 events – the most individual career boys titles in AJGA history. He’s also the first AJGA alum in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Mickelson’s Valley connection goes back to his college days as a Sun Devil. After turning pro, he became an ambassador for Grayhawk and still sports the club’s logo on his bag. In 2000, Mickelson partnered with The Thunderbirds – the civic-minded organization behind the Waste Management Phoenix Open – to create the most competitive junior golf tournament in the world. And 16 years later, through Mickelson’s inspiration, and generous annual financial support from The Thunderbirds, Grayhawk Golf Club, Under Armour and the Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation, the Thunderbird International Junior is the biggest stop for the best junior players around the globe.

Mickelson did such a good job that he now competes on tour against former participants such as Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, WM Phoenix Open Champions Hunter Mahan and Kyle Stanly, and 2015 Masters Champion Jordan Spieth. Same goes for the LPGA. Paula Creamer, Inbee Park, Alison Lee, Lexi Thompson, Belen Mozo and Jessica Wallace also made the cut at the professional level.

Part of the success of the tournament is the unmatched player experience. The event features 48 boys and 30 girls, ages 12-18, from 17 states and 14 countries making the Thunderbird International Junior one of the most diverse and competitive events in the world. Each year, Grayhawk Golf Club transforms their event hall into a player’s hospitality hub where they bring in table tennis, foosball, video games and air hockey to keep players busy between rounds. The tournament also includes families at the welcome dinner, family BBQ and awards ceremony. Players participate in activities such as a glow-ball putting contest and a par-3 contest. All of the evening social events are one-of-a-kind and provide a unique way for players to bond and spark new friendships.

The Thunderbird International Junior has earned many honors over the years including AJGA’s Tournament of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and Hospitality of the Year. And in 2010, tournament co-chairs, Mike Kennedy and Del Cochran – both Thunderbirds – earned the Digger Smith Award, presented annually since 1991 to those with longtime dedication to junior golf.

Each year, players designate a benefitting charity and The Thunderbirds donate $1,000 to that charity in their name, reinforcing The Thunderbird’s aim to improve the quality of life in Phoenix-area communities. To date, The Thunderbird International Junior has raised over $220,000 for charity, solidifying the tournament as a major philanthropic engine and a world-class golf event created through the vision and dedication of Mickelson and The Thunderbirds.