SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. – Ten-year-old junior golfer Derek Gutierrez is packing his bags and heading down to historic golf-haven Pinehurst, North Carolina, to compete in the 2016 Red, White and Blue Invitational this weekend.

Gutierrez qualified for the tournament with a third place overall finish in the Boys 10-year-old Spring 2016 North Jersey Local Tour, never finishing below 6th place in any tournament all season.

The Cranford native is a member of the John Shippen Youth Golf Academy and has been practicing at Scotch Hills Golf Course since the age of 5. The Academy’s chairman, Thurman Simmons, said that young Gutierrez is pound-for-pound “the best golfer in Central Jersey.”

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With this being the biggest tournament in Gutierrez’s young career, Simmons and the Shippen Foundation will fund the entire trip down to North Carolina. In memory of African-American golf great John Shippen, the academy promotes minority participation in golf and is “dedicated to exposing, teaching and promoting the game of golf to all youth,” according to their mission statement.

Pinehurst, often renowned as the “Cradle of American Golf,” will be the first time the young golfer will compete out of state (excluding when he plays against his grandpa in Florida) and Gutierrez is anxious to tee-off this Fourth of July weekend.

“I’m really happy and excited, but also nervous,” he said, looking forward to the Boys’ Age 10 First Round tee time on Saturday morning. “This is my first big, big tournament.”

In his final tune-ups before the big trip, Gutierrez came in third at both the Pine Barrens Golf Club tournament last week and Green Acres Country Club tournament on Monday. Each helped boost the confidence that the budding star has admittedly always displayed.

“My grandpa showed us [how to play golf when I was five], and then I just wanted to be better than my brother,” Gutierrez said.

According to Simmons, when 5-year-old Gutierrez started at the Shippen Academy, he also told Simmons, “I’m going to play on TV one day.” Though that day has not come yet, the golf prodigy will move one step closer this weekend.

Gutierrez and the rest of the boys in his age group will tee off between 9:15 and 10:45 a.m. on Saturday, July 2. The second of two rounds will tee off the next morning between 7:30 and 9:00.