SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Oct. 12, 2019) – The Sonoran sun has set on day one of the 8th PGA Jr. League Championship presented by National Car Rental at picturesque Grayhawk Golf Club.
2014 National Champions Team California (San Ramon) and 2018 3rd Place Team Texas (Montgomery/Houston) lead their divisions––Wanamaker and Ryder, respectively. Twelve All-Star Teams of junior golfers compete against their divisional teams throughout the day Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning (Oct. 12-14), before divisional winners compete for the national title Monday afternoon.
Every PGA Jr. League Championship has been won by a team representing either California or Georgia. However, like last year, they’re battling it out in the same division.
True to form, Team California took early honors in the Wanamaker Division with a 2-0-0 record and 18 points, with 2017 National Champion Team Georgia (Duluth/Atlanta) not far behind, posting an identical spotless record and 15 points on the board.
Team Oklahoma (Tulsa) sits in 3rd place with a 1-1-0 record and 14 ½ points. In 4th place is Team Connecticut (Harwinton/Hartford) at 1-1-0 and 9.5 points. Team Illinois (Lemont/Chicago) sits in 5th place and Team New York (Farmingdale/Long Island) in 6th place, both with 0-2-0 records and 7 ½ points (NOTE: tie breaker rules mean Team Illinois players won more overall holes and therefore sit in 5th place, despite an identical record and score to Team New York).
California’s wins over Connecticut (9 ½ – 2 ½) and Illinois (8 ½ – 3 ½) showed that teamwork made the difference.
“We started off hot today,” said Team California Captain Jim Collins, PGA. “The sixth hole was pretty critical [in the afternoon]. Our second group was tied going into the sixth. Curtis [De Silva, 14] drove it over the green, chipped up and missed the putt, but Colin [Keith, 13] made it. In the next group, Edan [Cui, 12] hit it in there to eight feet and made a clutch second putt to win the flag. That was the turning point which put us as at 6-2. That was when my heart rate got back to normal.”
“I think we played really well,” said De Silva. “We had a couple of bad drives and played some out of the desert, but we recovered well.”
Through it all, Collins keeps his players focused on the bigger picture.
“It really is an experience of a lifetime for these kids,” said Collins. “I have goosebumps now just talking about it. The game’s not bigger than life. We’re trying to teach these kids good principles and good etiquette… to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.”
Meanwhile, Georgia carded its Saturday wins over Illinois (8 – 4) and Oklahoma (7 – 5).
“[The last game] was a nail biter,” said Team Georgia Captain Patrick McCrary, PGA. “We’ve got some good players, and I told them it was tight, and that we needed to step up and finish strong on this last hole for our last two groups. They just came out and did it.”
Georgia’s Sahish Reddy, 12, was clear on how his team keeps his eye on the prize. “Focus on each hole at a time. Play with confidence, and have a good time.”
In the Ryder Division, Team Texas (Montgomery/Houston) two-stepped its way to the top with a 2-0-0 record and 16 ½ points, with 2018 Runner-Up Team Minnesota (Blaine/Minneapolis) trailing by only 2 points at 2-0-0 and 14 ½ points.
In 3rd place, newcomers Team North Carolina (Charlotte) finished 1-1-0 and 14 points. Team Washington (Bellingham) sits in 4th place with a 1-1-0 record and 9 ½ points. Team Ohio (Columbia Station/Cleveland) is in 5th place with a 0-2-0 record and 9 points, followed by Team Louisiana (Shreveport) with 0-2-0 record and 8 ½ points in 6th place.
Team Texas started its day with a bang with a 9 – 3 win over Team Washington, and they followed it up with a 7 ½ – 4 ½ win over Team Ohio. Despite the day’s victories, it was still a comeback story for the Houston-area team.
“In the morning, it was 9 – 3, but we were 2 – 2 after the first flag, and it seemed a lot tighter before we kicked it into high gear,” said Team Texas Captain Ben Willman, PGA. “We were down 4 ½ to 3 ½ in the afternoon. The last four flags the boys brought it back. They won the last flag every single match. I’m super proud.”
It was that strong finish that vaulted Texas to the top of the scoreboard.
“We stayed confident the whole way, and we closed it out,” added Texas player Austin Hofferkamp, 12, who was part of an impressive closing group with 14-year-old Marek Fleming.
“It’s awesome to play PGA Jr. League,” added Fleming. “We don’t get to play team golf anywhere else.”
Team Minnesota traveled a hard-fought road to return to the Championship. Their 2018 Captain Jay Norman, PGA, passed away suddenly earlier this year. Coach Tony Serpico, PGA Associate, stepped into the Captain’s position for his team.
Minnesota was an unexpected contender in 2018. They’re back to prove themselves again, and this time, they’re doing it in Norman’s honor.
“The kids are excited to be here,” said Serpico. “We have Texas in the morning and that will be a battle for sure. But, we shocked them last year right out of the gate… no one knew who Minnesota was.”
The Championship continues Sunday (Oct. 13) with divisional sessions three and four. Monday morning will be the final session of divisional play. On Monday afternoon, the top team from each division will compete for the national title, and the 2nd place teams from each division will vie for 3rd place.
Live scoring, stories and updates can be found here.
Ryder Division Standings
Team Texas (Montgomery/Houston): 2-0-0 Record, 16 ½ Points
Team Minnesota (Blaine/Minneapolis): 2-0-0 Record, 14 ½ Points
Team North Carolina (Charlotte): 1-1-0 Record, 14 Points
Team Washington (Bellingham): 1-1-0 Record, 9 ½ Points
Team Ohio (Columbia Station/Cleveland): 0-2-0 Record, 9 Points
Team Louisiana (Shreveport): 0-2-0 Record, 8 ½ Points
Wanamaker Division Standings
California (San Ramon): 2-0-0 Record, 18 Points
Georgia (Duluth/Atlanta): 2-0-0 Record, 15 Points
Oklahoma (Tulsa): 1-1-0 Record, 14 ½ Points
Connecticut (Harwinton/Hartford): 1-1-0 Record, 9 ½ Points
Illinois (Lemont/Chicago): 0-2-0 Record, 7 ½ Points
New York (Farmingdale/Long Island): 0-2-0 Record, 7 ½ Points
NEWS & NOTES
SKILLS COMPETITION FUN
The annual Welcome Reception & Skills Competition that kicks off the PGA Jr. League Championship presented by National Car Rental never fails to bring the fun. This year’s skills stations were themed after the PGA Jr. League Ambassadors: players stepped up to putt it like Rickie Fowler, chip it like Michelle Wie, carry it over the water like Lexi Thompson, long drive it like Rory McIlroy, and new this year, soccer darts a la Alex Morgan and Pop-A-Shot like Stephen Curry. Musician and freestyler Kelley James was back to entertain the crowd and brought along some friends, including PGA Tour players Colt Knost and Chez Reavie, and former San Francisco Giants outfielder Cody Ross.
CUB REPORTER WORKS WITH ESPN VETERAN
11-year-old Warren Fisher, back for his second year as cub reporter at the PGA Jr. League Championship, is working alongside ESPN’s Michael Collins over the weekend. A two-hour highlight show will debut on ESPN2 on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. EST/12 p.m. PST. ESPN is the new broadcast network of the PGA Jr. League Championship presented by National Car Rental.