Parker Sands closes 66-66 to romp to victory in Western Junior

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From the Western Junior staff

HINSDALE, Ill. – Parker Sands went to swing coach Matt DeJohn three weeks ago looking for answers.

A little work on quieting his lower body later, Sands is the champion of the 106th Western Junior.

The 18-year-old from Edmond, Oklahoma, owned the final 36 holes on Thursday, carding a pair of 66s at Ruth Lake Country Club for a six-shot victory at 10-under par. Chase Kyes, of Birmingham, Alabama, finished second at 4-under while Talan Harrison, of Kannapolis, North Carolina, and Sterling Hurd, of Austin, Texas finished tied for fifth at 3-under.

Sands followed up a first-round 72 on Tuesday by posting three consecutive rounds of 66 on the par-70 layout.

“If it wasn’t for that lesson, I don’t know where I’d be,” Sands said. “It got me driving the ball great, and that really helped here. I was just so confident over the ball on these skinny fairways, and now it’s all such a surreal feeling.”

The soon-to-be Florida freshman closed the tournament in style on the par-3 18th, where he faced a 25-foot birdie putt that sliced downhill. Sands gently rolled the ball over a ridge and lifted his putter in the air as it sank to the bottom of the cup while the crowd gathered behind the green cheered.

Five hours earlier, a putt on the same hole was the fuel that ignited Sands’ impressive final round.

“I went to lunch pretty salty after missing a seven-footer on 18,” Sands said. “That definitely got me fired up for the front nine in the afternoon.”

Sands birdied his first two holes in the final round, eagled the fifth and made another birdie on six to go out in 31.

Sands ultimately separated himself from the field this week on the 523-yard, par-5 fifth. He posted birdies in the first two rounds and made eagle in the third and fourth rounds to go 6-under on that hole alone, two strokes better than any other player.

“I don’t know why it went so well because it’s a real narrow hole, but I just hit it in some great spots and left myself some good looks on the green,” Sands said. “All thanks to my putter for those.”

Sands gave a few shots back with bogeys on Nos. 12, 15 and 16; however, he quickly recovered with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 to comfortably lay claim to the Milt Woodard Trophy.

“I always go into these big tournaments expecting great things, but this time I really didn’t want to get ahead of myself and focused on going shot-by-shot,” Sands said. “I really leaned on that those last few holes.”

The lesson with DeJohn has now produced two straight wins for Sands, who won the Oklahoma Junior Boys Championship last week.

“The momentum definitely carried over from last week because I was hitting the ball so well,” Sands said. “I started thinking, ‘Wow, I really found something,’ and I hit it even better this week. It’s such a good feeling.”

Sands will look to carry the momentum across the summer now that he, along with Kyes, Harrison and Hurd, have exemptions for the 2024 Western Amateur at Moraine Country Club in Dayton, Ohio, on July 29-Aug. 3.

With the win, Sands joins the likes of Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk as a Western Junior champion.

“It gives you goosebumps,” Sands said. “There are major champions on there. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, but I’d love to add to the major championship total on that list and maybe have kids look up to me one day.”

Finishing in a tie for fifth at 2-under were Brooks Simmons, of Dallas; Mason Howell, of Thomasville, Georgia; and Michael Riebe, of Encinitas, California.

Nathan Miller, of Dallas, and Rich Wills, of Cramerton, North Carolina, finished tied for eighth at 1-under.

For the full leaderboard, click here.


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Ken MacLeod

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