By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY – Watching Preston Albee and Parker Sands duel down the stretch on Thursday afternoon at Gaillardia Country Club, one got the sense it could be a preview of the battle for next spring’s Class 6A title.
Only time will tell on that, but it was Albee who prevailed in dramatic fashion in the Talor Gooch Foundation Junior Championship by 3Bird Kids Foundation, Inc., birding the third playoff hole to record his first American Junior Golf Association title.
Albee, a rising junior at Choctaw High School, shot a 4-under-par 68 to finish the 54-hole event at 10-under 206. Sands, a rising senior at Edmond North High School who led after the first two rounds, fired a 70. The duo finished six shots clear of Grant Gudgel of Stillwater and Chase Hughes of Oklahoma City, who tied for third.
“I know in golf, anything is possible, so I just keep fighting,” Albee said. “I get a little nervous before I hit my shots, but once I’m locked in over my ball, I don’t really feel anything, and I think that gives me an advantage over a lot of people and allows me to stay confident.”
Lisa Herman of Jenks made sure there was no doubt as to the tournament’s girls champion, sizzling with a 6-under 66 and closing with a birdie-eagle flourish for a seven-shot win over Yu-Chu Chen of Allen, Texas. Herman, last spring’s Class 6A individual champion for Jenks High School, finished the tournament at 12-under 204 while earning her second AJGA title.
While Herman ran away from her competitors Thursday, Albee made sure Sands couldn’t do the same. Both Albee and Sands went 2-under on the front nine, allowing Sands to maintain the two-shot lead he carried into the round, but Sands bogeyed the par-4 No. 10 while Albee birdied. Albee bogeyed the par-4 No. 11 but birdied the par-4 No. 12 to again pull even.
Sands rolled in a birdie on the par-3 No. 13. Both birdied the par-5 No. 14 but a bad chip shot on an approach by Albee resulted in a bogey on the par-3 No. 15, and suddenly Sands had a two-shot lead with three to play.
Both players ended up in a bunker on the par-4 No. 16. Hitting first, Sands tried to blast out, but instead failed to clear the bunker wall, giving him another shot from the sand. That hurt his approach and he eventually missed a 12-foot bogey putt. Albee, with a better lie in the bunker, was able to salvage par on the hole and the two again were tied.
“I played pretty good,” said Sands, who’s verbally committee to play collegiately at Florida. “I just made one mistake on 16. You can’t win tournaments with doubles. It’s just tough to do that.”
After each player birdied the par-5 No. 18, they headed to the par-4 No. 10 for a playoff. Both parred and both birdied No. 11, with Sands hitting a clutch putt from eight feet after Albee’s birdie.
At No. 12, Albee’s approach shot landed about 10 feet from the hole while Sands was about 15 feet away. Sands barely missed to the right before Albee confidently stroked his putt for the birdie and the win.
“I love playoffs,” Albee said. “I love the pressure.”
Herman started Thursday trailing Chen by one shot but four holes into the round, Herman held a three-shot lead and stepped on the accelerator from there, even though she said she didn’t realize how far ahead she was.
“Honestly, I was really worried about what I was going to shoot,” she said. “I wanted to stay calm and make pars and just do what you have to do. I was just trying not to think about it and keep to myself.”
She played her back nine in 4-under, with birdies at No. 11 and No. 12. After a bogey on No. 15, she told her father she was going to finish birdie-birdie – but she did better than that.
Herman rolled in a nine-foot birdie putt at No. 17, then used a 6-hybrid on her approach shot on No. 18, rolling her ball to within six feet of the pin. She made the eagle putt to finish off her 66.
Her other AJGA win came last September in the Accenture NW Arkansas Junior at Highlands Golf Course in Bella Vista, Ark. She’s currently No. 35 in the Rolex AJGA girls rankings.
Gooch, a former Carl Albert High School and Oklahoma State standout from Midwest City who’s won three times this year on the LIV Tour, presented trophies to Herman and Albee after their wins.
“It’s so cool to have elite junior golfers come to our place and play great golf,” Gooch said, noting that he won his first AGJA tournament at nearby Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond. “It was cool to hand (Albee) his first trophy.”
Gooch praised Gaillardia as a “great, great golf course to play. We’re, in fact, talking with LIV Golf trying to get (a tournament) out here. That’s how good of a course this is.”