Alex Kaui doesn't shrink from a challenge, and repeating as champion at the AJGA Matt Snodgrass Las Vegas Junior Open would be a big one to overcome.
Starting today at Stallion Mountain, the Green Valley High School senior-to-be and two-time Nevada Class 4A champion will attempt to become the second girl to win back-to-back Junior Open titles, the first being Nancy Abiecunas in 1998 and 1999.
Kaui, who won the 54-hole event by a stroke last year at Anthem Country Club, will have to do it on a different course. Also, she is facing a talented field that includes Hannah Kim of Chula Vista, Calif., who is No. 46 in the Polo junior rankings, and Raychelle Santos of La Quinta, Calif., who will play at Gonzaga this fall.
"I'm playing pretty well right now," Kaui said. "I was in Colorado last week for the U.S. Women's Open qualifying and I missed making it by only one shot."
Kaui hopes her improved short game serves her well at Stallion Mountain.
"I'm much more comfortable with my short irons," Kaui said. "The course is a little easier than Anthem. The greens are slower and it's more wide open. You have a greater margin for error."
Kaui is expected to sign with Oklahoma in the fall. She said winning this week would boost her confidence to take the next big step in her career.
"It's important because it's in Las Vegas and you always want to play well in front of your family and friends," she said.
The fact Kaui already has made her college choice should ease some of the pressure this week. The tournament, which has boys and girls divisions, attracts coaches from many of the nation's top collegiate programs, and UNLV men's coach Dwaine Knight and women's coach Amy Bush are regulars. The last three Junior Open boys winners - Taylor Montgomery, Zane Thomas and AJ McInerney - are UNLV signees.
A local has won the boys division four straight years, going back to Max Marisco in 2008. That streak could end this year with Nebraska signee Aaron Wong of Chandler, Ariz., among the favorites.
The tournament was rebranded this year to honor the memory of Snodgrass, an avid golfer who died in 2011 at age 23 after a 13-year battle with brain cancer. His family's foundation - mattsnodgrass.org - helps fund counseling and services for families of pediatric and young adult cancer patients.
Play begins all three days at 6:30 a.m. and admission is free.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.