On Saturday we renewed our acquaintance with the venue that, without any shadow of a doubt, provided us with our most special memories of our first year in existence.
in November of last year we were very fortunate to be able to play Harbor Hills only 1 day after the PGA Tour had departed. It proved to be quite the experience to enjoy (for some, enjoy might be a stretch?) a fine golf course that had been laid out to the requests and high standards demanded by the PGA only 24 hours after 150 professionals from 5 countries had given it their best shot! The experience was made all the better as we (HJT) were also celebrating our 1st year anniversary of being formed on the same day.
In December of last year we returned to Harbor Hills for the final day of our 36-hole Claret Jug Trophy Event and our quest to find our first Champion Golfer of the Year. THAT is a day that will live long in our memories as it gave us so much drama, excitement and emotion! All of our players that day, and particularly those who contested an incredibly exciting, and nail biting final day (Ryker Huther, Maggie Potash and our eventual champion Nick Zarillo) and THEN then a 3 extra hole play off, deserve great credit for making it very special.
If you have joined us recently or you weren’t around for the Claret Jug Trophy event in December you will still hopefully get the point we are making. Many of our previous Harbor Hills visits have been very special for us and many of our junior golfers and we hope our 2021 experiences continue to provide us with even more great memories.
On Saturday we experienced an extremely busy Harbor Hills CC. As a Scot and a newly arrived immigrant I’m learning a great deal quickly about how many of our venue hosts operate their business during different stages of the year . Friends back home in Scotland marvel at the very idea that we can play golf all year round in Florida, well yes we can, but don’t be fooled into thinking its always going to be easy to just get out there and play! As we saw on Saturday most good venues are packed full of golfers right now, tee time delays are often likely and as we witnessed at Harbor Hills often one reason is a shortfall in available golf carts as golfers playing in the afternoon anxiously wait for carts being returned, and cleaned to the correct standard before being released back out again!
For those of you that were having to wait longer than usual for a cart we are very sorry about that. Harbor Hills gave us their apologies to pass on too. In the end, albeit later than anticipated, we are pleased to report that everyone got out and we could begin play.
This was set to be another interesting visit, a strong field of players in all flight categories and for two of our players with “history” at Harbor Hills (Nick Zarillo and Maggie Potash) they were each intent on achieving their own personal goals of being the first players of 2021 to achieve 3 medal wins and the reward of promotion to our unique (all ages) Claret Jug Flight.
The Old Tom Morris Flight:
On Saturday we were pleased to be welcoming back long time HJT player Jack Panigoni (Panigoni Golf Academy). Jack has missed out on a lot of golf recently through injury, including that afore-mentioned Claret Jug event. We are really pleased to see him back playing and fully expect that, with a solid practice regime, he can quickly return to regularly shooting low and being back among the medals. On Saturday his intention on his return was to simply enjoy the competition and play as well as possible. Good attitude Jack, and its great to see you playing again!
The most unfortunate incident of the day occurred on 10 as one of our players (Cody Royston) suffered an injury and had to withdraw from the competition. Cody, we all wish you well and hope for a swift recovery. You did the right thing by not trying to play on as these things can result in longer term damage and time away from the golf course. Take it easy and we hope to see you back really soon.
Only one player on Saturday put a little bit of red on our scoreboard. Nick Zarillo (Mike Bender Golf Academy) was on his own personal quest to get that 3rd win from 3 starts and ensure his status as a Claret Jug Flight player for the remainder of 2021. His front 9 was so very typical of many of his previous competition rounds. If you don’t know the player and you ONLY look at the scorecard total which reads -2 (34) you would assume everything has gone right for him over those 9 holes.
It didn’t all go to plan though, and that’s something that we’ve learned about Nick and his character as a developing and improving player. He already gets it that things might not go his way on every shot and every hole and he is one of the very best we know for not letting it get to him and responding quickly and positively following it. That front 9 -2 (34)was achieved following a very early bogey at the 1st, the response to it was a birdie at the 2nd, another frustrating bogey on 3 just meant he’d go on and birdie 4….5 through 9 were dispatched in par with the exception being the very nice eagle 3 on the par 5 6th hole!
Well done Nick, I suspect we might use that front 9 scorecard as an example to our budding younger golfers that this is the strength of character and mindset needed to win if they have desires to become better and stronger players.
It was a day where no one could keep pace with our leader. Best of the players trying to keep a little pressure on him was Elle Folland (The Villages High School) whose +3 (39) on the front would still require a monumental effort on the, usually tougher, closing 9 holes.
In the end and, if it was to happen, it was going to be Nick’s to lose and from a position like that it was always extremely unlikely. His back nine of +3(39) was more than enough to post a medal winning +1(73). Elle took the runners-up spot in this one with a +8(80) finishing the day strong with a birdie on 18 in front of a supportive group of spectators!
Congratulations once again to Nick Zarillo from everyone at HJT. 3 played and 3 won and all of them very well deserved! Fittingly it’s our Champion Golfer of 2020 and Claret Jug Trophy winner who takes up the first spot in our Claret Jug Flight of 2021.
The Young Tommy Morris Flight:
Our mid-age players (13-15) compete in this one and it would be fair to say that quite a few found the Harbor Hills experience to be a tough one on Saturday. Scoring low was proving tough and only our medal winning player managed to put a 70’s score on the leaderboard for the rest to chase.
Early on it became quite clear that this flight outcome was going to be centered around two players. Maggie Potash (Eustis,FL) and Zachary Phan (Ocala GC) set the early pace over the front 9 holes. Both of these talented young golfers are hugely experienced for their relatively young years. Several years of competition experience shows and its no surprise they are both usually showing at, or very close to, the top of our leaderboard in these events.
Zach has been very close to picking up his first 2021 HJT win and last week at Red Tail GC he was extremely unfortunate to lose out in a 3 player extra hole play-off in the toughest way of all, a lipped out putt that seemed destined for the cup! This week he was hoping to turn things around in his favor.
Zach’s early holes proved tough, 4 shots dropped after 3 holes however what we already know about him is that he has a very strong belief in his ability and enough experience to have already learned that there is still a long way to go from there. He followed up the disappointing start with a nice run of 4 par holes and a birdie at 8 for good measure to post a respectable front 9 +4(40)
Maggie shares many of those exceptional battling qualities with those we’ve spoken about earlier. She has that same winning mindset gained over a number of years of development and competing. When you add to that her undoubted talent and an air of calmness in her approach you have a very fine young golfer who we believe has every chance to continue to develop into one of the real top performers in Junior Golf.
Maggie started consistently well playing nice par golf and even finding a birdie early on too. A tough 3 holes in the middle of that front 9 but just as mentioned she once again showed her quality and steadied for the remainder of those opening holes. At the turn it was a fighting +2(38) and a two stroke lead over the rest of the field.
Zach would likely need a flawless back 9 to keep pace in this one and unfortunately that was not on the cards for him, or for that matter, any of our field of players on Saturday. Historically Harbor Hills back 9 usually does prove to be way more challenging than the front and once again it proved to be the case. Zach worked hard throughout and would eventually have to settle for runner-up spot in this one with a 40-42-(82)
Maggie closed off the medal win by keeping it as consistent as she could on the closing holes. Errors were kept to a minimum with nothing worse than bogey on her card all day. The back nine added another birdie on 14 and par on 4 of the final holes to finish on a 38-39-(77). Well done and congratulations to Maggie, 3 wins from 3 ….job done, Claret Jug Flight secured for 2021 and even at this early stage Maggie is looking like the stand out player amongst her age group of 2021 so far.
It was very fitting then that Maggie Potash, a young lady golfer who may one day forge a career of her own in our game, was presented with her winner’s medal by a very special guest. Connie Chillemi (LPGA-retired) has been along the same path that many of our players may one day hope to take in future. From her very early days in golf (at aged only 9 she won the National Pee Wee Championship) Connie later led the way as the standout junior championship ladies player in Florida winning 3 High School State Championships in a row before moving on to a busy life that took her on the road as a battling touring LPGA Professional for more than 20 years.
Connie is an inspirational lady and a wonderful character who has some incredible memories of her lifetime in golf that we hope to get her to share with our own young golfers at some stage, you will see Connie at a number of HJT events in future as she still works very closely with kids learning the game and she loves to watch young players compete. Thank you so much Connie for coming along and presenting Maggie with her medal on this occasion.
The Bobby Jones Flight:
Our youngest players in this one, on Saturday the range was 9-12. It’s always great to watch these kids develop and there are now quite a few who have been with us over the last few months that are showing some real signs of improvement in their overall play and their scores are reducing as a result.
We are delighted to report an HJT first was achieved by our Bobby Jones Flight youngsters on Saturday at Harbor Hills. Every player in the flight successfully recorded a score in double digits! In addition to that feat we now have players in our Bobby Jones who are regularly breaking their best scoring records and rapidly homing in on that magical “break 80” target.
ALL of our young players on Saturday deserve congratulations for putting so much hard work and effort into giving their very best, please join with us in saying a HUGE well done to:
Deya Shaktawat (Lady Lake) , Aiden Skrocki (The Villages Golf Academy), Keating Holland (Ann Arbor,MI) , Brantley Flannery(Weirsdale) , Rhett Kirkland (Wildwood) and Riley Sillaway(Longwood)
We would also like to say a very special thank you to two of our youngest players Brantley Flannery(9) and Rhett Kirkland(10) who were joined by a third player on Saturday for 9 holes. Normally Cooper Longest(The Villages Golf Academy) plays in our Wee Highlander competitions however on Saturday it was decided that we would take the opportunity to let Cooper experience what will hopefully be the next step up in development for him when he’s ready to make it and play with our youngest HJT Member players in competition.
Cooper enjoyed the experience a great deal and much of that I believe was down to the sportsmanship, friendliness and encouragement he received from Brantley and Rhett. That comes as no surprise whatsoever to us as both of these boys are perfect examples of what we hope that every young golfer turns out to be, they are confident, polite and more respectful of others than some kids many years older than they are. They were so supportive and did an outstanding job of making Cooper feel welcome and playing with them ensured he had a great time at Harbor Hills!
Incidentally both Rhett and Brantley are two of those earlier mentioned young players who are improving and developing extremely well, would you believe that both recorded an identical 40-46-(86) to share the runners-up spot on Saturday? Well done Brantley Flannery and Rhett Kirkland, and thank you, YOU should be very proud of your score and WE are very proud of the example you set on and off the golf course!
Our medal winner on Saturday had what we will call an “interesting” round of golf. Riley Sillaway joined us at the beginning of this year and already he’s showing everyone that he is a very focused, strong and capable young player. This was his first visit to Harbor Hills and his front 9 had a bit of everything in it, a bogey start on 1 was quickly taken care of with birdie at 2 and another at 3. Riley is a younger version of those earlier players who has the experience in him already that makes him capable of remaining calm and level-headed enough to not overthink any errors made and positively move on, he would need that as dropped shots on 3 consecutive holes tested him.
Riley’s positive response to that setback included two par holes and yet another birdie (3 in total) to record a front nine total of +1(37) and a 3 shot lead in his flight. The generally tougher back 9 looked in the beginning as if it was going to be more of the same good stuff as 10 and 11 were both made in par. Unfortunately that’s where the best of his scoring ended as 12 through 18 proved to be a real struggle for our young man from Longwood. Riley recorded a 37-47-(84) which would have disappointed him however it was still good enough to take the clubhouse lead while awaiting others to finish.
Competition golf is all about fine margins. In this case Riley’s 84, and without any doubt his saving grace was his early battling to post a strong front 9 total, is another example to learn from for all golfers playing competition golf. We are sure he would be very frustrated when things started to go against him BUT strong character and effort kept him working hard to post his best score on the day and THAT is a huge positive. Riley might feel he could have won this one by playing more consistently over those closing holes but that’s for next time to improve on…Saturday was Riley’s second HJT win and he fully deserved every bit of it, he would have possibly learned something about himself too and that’s what’s so great about playing this magical game!
Congratulations Riley from everyone at HJT. A second win and one step closer to promotion to our unique Claret Jug Flight of 3 time medal winners.
That just about wraps up another one from us. We did present another prize on Saturday to a player and that was to our young “lefty” from Ocala, Zach Phan who got the prize for nearest the pin. Well done Zach!
The full results card is shown below:
Next week we head back to our home course venue – Eagle Ridge GC in Summerfield. Registration is open for that one and you can register or find more info by clicking HERE
Thank you to everyone for supporting our players and tour and thank you to Harbor Hills for ensuring this special venue was once again in great shape.
Finally, and as always, thank you to our sponsor, Todd and Melissa Coon at TCL -Tri County Landscapes for your support.
See you all soon.