The 15-year-old returned a superb five-under 67 to move to eight-under overall. He leads Thailand’s Ratchanon Chantananuwat by two shots with one round to go, with Canadian Eric Zhao in third spot on four-under.
The Blairgowrie native talked about being comfortable playing links golf after his opening three-under 69. That score was returned in almost windless conditions. Day two saw 108 girls and boys aged between from 12 and 16 from 64 countries face a much stiffer test.
Most of the field have never played links golf, let alone in windy conditions. It can be a shock to the system for those weaned on parkland golf. Graham was in his element – and it showed.
Graham, ranked 356th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), only dropped one shot in the company of Korea’s Jeonghyun Lee and Avani Prashanth of India in a round that took just three hours and 33 minutes.
A bogey on the 182-yard, par-3, 5th hole was Graham’s only slip up to go with six birdies around the 6,558-yard, par-72 links.
“It was windier today than yesterday but I’m used to these conditions, to knocking the ball down into the wind and that showed today in my score,” said Graham.
“I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens today. I wasn’t as sharp around the greens yesterday or with my putter. I holed out a lot better today, a lot of testers from three to six feet, which were tough in that wind but I managed to hole most of them.”
Graham arrived in Monifieth after impressive showings in senior amateur golf this year following four wins in junior golf last season. The plus four handicapper finished seventh in the St Andrews Links Trophy and runner-up in the Lytham Trophy. Graham just missed out on the latter by a single stroke behind experienced Englishman John Gough.
“I don’t think there’s too much difference from boys’ to amateur golf,” he added. “It’s still just a game of golf and you have to approach it in the same way and perform well.
“The four wins last year definitely gave me confidence to play in tournaments like the Lytham Trophy and obviously this week, where there a lot of good players from around the world.”
Only one Scot has ever won the R&A Junior Open. David Inglis triumphed in the inaugural 1998 tournament at Formby before going on to become the number one player in college golf while at Northwestern, and star in Great Britain & Ireland’s victorious 2003 Walker Cup team at Ganton. Graham is hoping to go down the college route too.
He may have R&A Junior Open champion on his CV by the time he plays collegiate golf, but he’ll have to see off the challenge of fellow 15-year-old Chantananuwat. The Thai teenager matched Graham’s 67 and will be much fancied to join countrywoman Moriya Jutanugarn as Thai winners of the Junior Open. She pipped Jordan Spieth to the 2008 title.
Chantananuwat is 13th on WAGR, the highest ranked player in the field. He is also 291st on the Official World Golf Ranking after winning this year’s Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup on the Asian Tour, when he became the youngest male winner of a professional tournament at just 15 years and 37 days.
“I’m only two behind and I play better when I’m chasing,” Chantananuwat said. “I’m more in the zone. I don’t mind being two behind. It’s a good place to be. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Haecheon An from Korea and Oscar Bach from Norway share fourth place on three-under.