The PGA Tour produced this video feature on the 2023 Mack Champ Invitational for Girls.
This is a Sacramento story with a Houston highlight and many more plot developments to come.
Back in 2017, Alaythia Hinds and her father, Lamar, followed Cameron Champ in the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort in Napa. It was the second professional tournament for Cameron, who was still at Texas A&M and played on a sponsor’s exemption. Alaythia, now a 17-year-old rising senior at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove, CA, got to meet Cameron that week and was inspired to see a fellow Sacramento-area native playing at the game’s highest level.
“It was cool being able to connect with someone from the area, seeing how they’ve grown and how they’re succeeding in golf,” she said.
Alaythia’s relationship with the Cameron Champ Foundation has deepened over the years as she has volunteered at foundation-sponsored junior events at Foothill Golf Course and has traveled to Houston to play in all three Mack Champ Invitationals. After finishing 9th in 2021 and 15th in 2022, Alaythia shot even par (73-71) to take first place at this year’s MCI, which was significantly different from the first two iterations of the tournament. For the first time, the tournament was separate from the boys’ event, and it moved to a new course, The Club at Carlton Woods, site of The Chevron Championship, the first major of the LPGA Tour season.
But despite these changes, one thing remained the same: the MCI provided a unique environment for juniors from diverse backgrounds (and their families) to form lasting bonds.
“For all the years I’ve gone to the Mack Champ, I’ve definitely appreciated the experience of meeting a lot of people,” she said. “I get to interact with a lot of the players, more than I do at other tournaments, and I still keep in touch with some of them.”
Lamar contrasted the MCI experience with other junior events.
“It’s great to meet and see other families who are in the same boat you are, who are also trying to navigate the junior golf thing,” he said. “Typically she is the only African American golfer in a tournament. We just did a USGA qualifier, and out of 80 girls, she was the only African American in the field. So the MCI is completely different from our normal tournaments.”
But the MCI is not only about relationships. Alaythia’s victory this year has opened many competitive doors, including the chance to play in the John Shippen National Invitational (June 5-7, Grand Rapids, MI) and exemptions into the IMG Academy Junior World Championship (July 11-13, San Diego) and the Junior PGA Championship (Aug. 1-4, Hot Springs, AR).
“You have to be ranked really high to play in these tournaments,” she said. “Thanks to the opportunity that the Mack Champ Invitational has given me, I am able to compete.”
Closer to home, Alaythia is heading to Stanford for the First Tee National Championship in July and is looking forward to the high school golf season later this year, where she hopes to help Pleasant Grove improve on its fourth-place finish at the 2022 CIF State Girls Golf Championships. Alaythia tied for seventh in the individual standings.
Alaythia still has time to figure out what happens after high school, and though it seems certain golf will continue to take her places, she also excels in the classroom and as a musician. She is a 4.0 student and a violinist who plays with the Sacramento Youth Symphony.
“I do hope to play Division I golf in college,” she said, “and I’m excited to see what opportunities come next.”
Golf Digest documented the 2023 Mack Champ Invitational for Girls with this video series, which features an overview of the tournament and profiles of Haven Ward and Afi Amezado.
Episode 1: The Mack Champ Invitational
On April 13-15 at The Club at Carlton Woods, 47 young women from all over the world competed in front of family, friends and college coaches. From aces and playoffs to high-fives and hugs, the event offered several days of great golf and an abundance of inspiration.
Episode 2: Haven Ward
Haven Ward, the daughter of a single mother, has greatly benefited from the Mack Champ Invitational. Through exemptions and opportunities provided by Jeff Champ and the competitive atmosphere of the tournaments he has organized the last three years, the Atlanta native caught the attention of college coaches, and in fall 2023, she will be attending the University of Denver on a full golf scholarship.
Episode 3: Afi Amezado
Afi Amezado, a 14-year-old from an impoverished pocket of Accra, Ghana, boarded a plane bound for America on Wednesday, April 12, played a practice round at Carlton Woods in Houston on Thursday afternoon, and then competed in the Mack Champ Invitational on Friday and Saturday. She did it all with style, grace, humility and plenty of smiles.
Photos by Amanda Cantor of the AJGA and Mike Major.
Alaythia Hinds and Callia Ward steadily made their way up the leaderboard on Saturday and ended up in the same place at the end of their final rounds: tied at even par and headed for a playoff.
In the end, Hinds, a junior from Rancho Murieta, CA, emerged with the win after making a birdie on the par-5 18th in the playoff. She shot 74-70 for an even-par 144 total. Ward, a sophomore from Albuquerque, shot 73-71.
Alexis Lamadrid (2027) from Phoenix, who had a share of the lead with Koa Seymour after the first round, shot 73 on Saturday to finish alone in third place, one over for the tournament. Seymour struggled, shooting 79 to finish seven over.
Brenna Preap (2023) from Stockton, CA, and Julia Vollmer (2024) from San Antonio were tied for fourth at two over. Last year’s champ, Alona Avery (2024), was sixth at five over.
This was the third annual Mack Champ Invitational, but the first time the girls and boys played separate events. The boys tournament was in March at Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston for the third consecutive year. The girls moved to The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, TX. The LPGA’s first major of the season, the Chevron Championship, will be played on the same course next week.
After a two-under 70 on Friday that included a hole-in-one on No. 3, Aleah Shields-Rodipe seemed poised to cruise to victory in the 12-and-under division at the third annual Mack Champ Invitational.
She went into Saturday’s final round with a comfortable six-shot lead over Vivian Lott, but things got interesting on No. 12, their third hole of the day, when Lott came up with an ace of her own. The girls shot matching 39s on their first nine, but Lott made a run on the final nine, going one under through the first five holes to Shields-Rodipe’s three over.
In the end, Shields-Rodipe held off the charge, shooting 40 on her final nine for a seven-over 79 and five-over total, three shots ahead of Lott, who shot 76-76 to finish eight over.
Shields-Rodipe, a 7th-grader from Conroe, TX, just down the road from The Club at Carlton Woods, has played in every Mack Champ Invitational and finished second in her age division last year. Lott (Fayetteville, GA) and third-place finisher Layla Phillips (Harbor City, CA) are both sixth graders who made their MCI debuts in last year’s tournament.
Aleah Shields-Rodipe, a 7th-grader from nearby Conroe, TX, made a hole-in-one on the par-3 third on Friday. She also had an eagle on the par-5 eighth on the way to a two-under 70. She leads the 12-and-under division by six shots.
Koa Seymour and Alexis Lamadrid are tied atop the 13-18 division heading into the final round of the Mack Champ Invitational.
Seymour, a member of the class of 2025 from Valley Village, CA, had an up-and-down round with six birdies, four bogeys and a double to shoot 72. Lamadrid, a member of the class of 2027 from Phoenix, was more consistent with three birdies, two bogeys and a double to end up with the same total.
Julia Vollmer (2024, San Antonio), Zoe Hobbs (2024, Tomball, TX), and Alaythia Hinds (2024, Rancho Murieta, CA) are a shot behind at one over.
In the 12-and-under division, Aleah Shields-Rodipe, a 7th-grader from Conroe, TX, has a commanding lead after shooting 2-under 70. She made a hole-in-one on the par-3 third hole and an eagle on the par-5 eighth on the way to a front-nine 32; she cooled off a bit on the back, shooting 38. Vivian Lott of Fayetteville, GA, is second at four over and Layla Phillips of Harbor City, CA, is third at five over.
If the girls playing in this year’s Mack Champ Invitational are looking for a role model, they could do a lot worse than Amari Avery.
Since winning the inaugural MCI in 2021, Avery has been racking up accomplishments – All-American at USC, three time competitor at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, an 8-1-0 record for the United States in the Curtis Cup and Arnold Palmer Cup.
Now she’s earned an invitation to The Chevron Championship, the first major of the LPGA Tour season, which will be played April 20-23 at The Club at Carlton Woods, the site of this week’s Mack Champ Invitational for Girls. It will be Avery’s major championship debut.
Avery, from Riverside, CA, is currently ranked 11th in the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Her sister Alona, a high school junior, won the MCI in 2022 and will be competing again this week.
The Cameron Champ Foundation has partnered with the PGA of America to revive Junior PGA WORKS, a companion tournament to the PGA WORKS Collegiate Championship (PWCC).
The Junior PGA WORKS will feature 12 boys and 12 girls, most of whom were competitors in this year’s Mack Champ Invitational. The 36-hole event will be played at Shoal Creek Club on May 6 and 7. The PWCC, known as the “Most Culturally Significant Championship in Collegiate Golf,” will be played May 8 to 10 at Shoal Creek and Bent Brook Golf Course in Birmingham, AL.
“We are proud to partner with the Cameron Champ Foundation in the return of Junior PGA WORKS,” said PGA President and Director of Golf at the Country Club of Lansing, John Lindert. “Junior PGA WORKS is a terrific opportunity for elite high school players to compete on an elevated stage and experience the excitement of the PWCC.”
This year’s PWCC will feature a lineup of 30 teams and 52 individuals representing 44 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and other minority-serving institutions from all over the country.
The 24 players competing in the Junior PGA Works, presented by Medical Property Trust, will have the chance to showcase their talents in front of these college coaches and to participate in the entire Championship week, including PGA WORKS Beyond the Green, a career exploration event designed to educate and inspire talent from historically underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in the business of golf and beyond.
“As a foundation, we believe that creating sustainable pathways for diverse juniors from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds is critical to changing the face of the game and providing opportunities for those same juniors beyond the course,” said Jeff Champ, CEO and Co-Founder of the Cameron Champ Foundation. “We also believe that the best way to build these pathways and increase access is by finding like-minded partners for collaboration. We are proud to partner with the teams at Medical Properties Trust and PGA WORKS to mark the return of this event so that the juniors will be able to showcase their talent.”
Junior PGA WORKS was part of the PWCC from its creation in 1986 through the late 1990s.
You can read more about the event on pga.com.