Palm Desert's Braden Bernaldo tees off on the Pete Dye Course at Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

  Some golfers play their whole lives in local and sectional qualifiers trying to reach the finals of a United States Golf Association national championship, never reaching their ultimate goal.

  Braden Bernaldo of Indio will play for a USGA championship in his first attempt.

  “It’s pretty remarkable to think that I did it on my very first try,” said Bernaldo, a 16-year-old who has qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship later this month. “It’s great that I was able to get that done.”

  Bernaldo tied for second in a qualifying event at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, earning one of five berths into the U.S. Junior Amateur from the 70-player field. The 1-under 71 at Bear Creek makes him one of 264 players from across the country and around the world who will compete at The Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst July 19-24 for the national title.

  

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  The U.S. Junior Amateur is open to players who have not reached their 19th birthday by July 24 and who?have a USGA handicap index that does not exceed 4.4.

  For Bernaldo, the trip to the U.S. Junior Amateur?will cap a strange year of golf because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A member of the Palm Desert High School golf team in 2019 and 2020, Bernaldo did not play for the Aztecs this fall when high school sports resumed.?He will be a high school senior this fall.

  “I decided to go home school,” Bernaldo said. “Obviously, COVID was crazy. We were staying home anyway. So I decided to home school. I was used to staying home anyway.”

  The home schooling allowed Bernaldo to work more on his game, he admits. He also continued to find competition in the Toyota Cup Series, a series of events conducted by the Southern California PGA.

  At the Bear Creek qualifier, Bernaldo said he played a steady round with three birdies and two bogeys for the 71, one shot behind medalist Andrew Wang of Irvine.

  “I was lucky to have one of my old coaches, Dave Ruvolo (from The Lights at Indio Golf Course), to be on the bag,” Bernaldo said. “I’m so grateful that he was open to being on the bag.”

  The U.S. Junior Amateur will begin with two days of stroke play on both the Dogwood and Cardinal courses at The Country Club of North Carolina. The top 64 players in stroke play will advance to match play on the Dogwood Course. Bernaldo sees no reason to limit his expectations for the week.

  “I would say my main goal going into the tournament is to win,” he said. “If you are not there to win, there is no point in playing. You’ve got to give it your all. If I don’t go out there and win but come close, that will be perfectly fine.”

  Past winners of the Junior Amateur include three victories by Tiger Woods and single titles by Johnny Miller, David Duval and former Palm Desert High School player Jason Allred.

  Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer, he can be reached at larry.bohannan@desertsun.com of (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.

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