Mission Inn Resort is a very special venue and the golf course known simply as El Campeon makes it what it is!
Everything about Mission Inn is high quality. The impressive surroundings, the staff and even the immaculately cleaned and prepared golf carts bearing our HJT cow logo and player names. Everything about this venue just shines as it is of such high quality, and that’s all good, BUT what truly sets it apart from the rest is THAT unique golf course!
Ever since we made our very first HJT visit to play El Campeon just over a year ago I’ve listened to numerous comments from so many of our players and rather than reach any kind of agreement all I can say is they either love to play it or they don’t! I’ve stopped short of saying some hate it because that’s just not possible!
Some may dislike just how tough it can play or how it manages to punish even the slightest mistake but let’s be honest, if you are a young golfer with ambition, who dreams one day of developing into a top class player you probably know already that Mission Inn is most probably going to play a part in your future golfing journey and why it makes a lot of sense to play it as often as you can now!
From High School State Championships to College Golf Championships and even Amateur and Professional Tour Events they ALL play and respect this quality venue and especially the El Campeon course!
Saturday was a tough day for most when it came to scoring. Just in case it wasn’t tough enough already the conditions played a part too with, what turned out to be, pre-storm winds gusting in the latter part of the day and affecting everyone. One or two players did manage to score within an acceptable range of their normal average but overall we concluded that when El Campeon plays as tough as it did for this one most can realistically expect to add anywhere between 8-10 strokes to their usual average scoring round.
That was pretty close to accurate for many on Saturday and while it may sound like we are concentrating on a negative here that’s certainly not our intention. Don’t forget at HJT we very much see ourselves as a development tour for players of ALL abilities. We all get a nice warm feeling when we talk about how so many of our regular players have improved and so many are shooting low scores however we do also need to remind ourselves that to see real improvement we need to keep challenging you all, and one of THE best ways to challenge any improving golfer is to take them to a golf course with a reputation for toughness, somewhere that demands total concentration and only your very best golf. El Campeon certainly ticks that box.
The most pleasing thing for us on Saturday was the fact that every player in the field who signed up for this one is either already a very strong player OR a rapidly improving player and while there may have been some glum faces around coming off 18 we want to recognize every one of you for having the confidence and strength of character to give it your very best! Best score of the day was 80…higher than normal BUT put that into context and it’s suddenly pretty impressive! Five of our players shot 85 or less and when we look at those who not so long ago were regularly in triple digits not a single player shot more than 97….those are real positives to take away from this one for all of you and the kind of statistics that make us very proud of everyone for their efforts.
Last point on the subject, even those of you in the field who openly admitted you never do well at Mission Inn would have learned something new on Saturday and you will be a better player for the experience next time, trust us on that!
The Claret Jug Flight:
Our Claret Jug Flight on Saturday contained two exceptional players at opposite ends of the age spectrum. Both however display really strong similarities in so many ways. Riley Sillaway (Longwood) and Nick Zarillo (Mike Bender Academy) may be at very different stages of their golf journey but despite that they share so many great traits that we love to see on and off the golf course.
Both are humble and respectful, never flashy or brash, and each has demonstrated on numerous occasions to us, and everyone who’s played alongside them that they have the required mental strength and confidence in their game to become exceptional players. They also share a great passion for the game and a real hunger to continue to improve and they are both BRILLIANT to watch if you are a true fan of our great game!
Riley started well in this one and handled the early conditions pretty well. The first 4 holes resulted in only one dropped shot. 5 through 7 would prove to be his toughest stretch of holes with 4 shots lost but he did regroup quickly and made par on 8 and 9 to close off the opening 9 in +5(40) Incidentally only one other player in the field bettered that front 9 performance (Braden Hawkins +4 (39) once again demonstrating just how tough the course was playing.
Nick too was steady early on with par made at 1 and 2 before suffering his own minor setbacks over the next 4 holes where a shot was dropped on each. Par at 7 was then followed by one he will want to forget quickly. A triple bogey hole is something I cannot recall ever seeing from Nick in any competition in 2021. It’s uncharacteristic for a player who’s right at the top of his game right now while at the same time a reminder that shots can, and often will, be dropped and any lapse, especially around here, will be punished!
We have told this story before about Nick, on the tee at 9 it was all about his ability to re-focus, only look forward, make par or better and re-build from there. Par came along at 9 and his scorecard read +7(42)
I’ve written many times about Nick Zarillo’s ability to finish strong especially after a setback. The par at 9 was the catalyst that began his best run of form for the day. It was the beginning of an impressive run of no fewer than 7 holes made in level par, including birdie at 13! He did drop 3 shots on the back 9 but they were kept to a minimum and nothing worse than bogey giving him a much improved and best in field +2(39) closing hole total and an overall 42-39-(81) finish.
Riley was hoping to keep his own steady pace going and if possible improve things on those closing 9 holes. Par at 10 was a great way to start and even bogeys at 11 and 12 weren’t too damaging. On a day when birdies were extremely rare Riley did a great job to pick up one at 13 (Riley and Nick were the only two players in the field to make birdies at 13!) Par at 14 was unfortunately followed by bogey at 15 then double bogey at 16. Par was found once again to steady things at 17 before Riley suffered the worst of fortunes at the blustery water hole at 18 where another double bogey was the outcome. It was a really disappointing way to close out this round for the young man from Longwood. It was one that he played a lot of good golf in over a course that demands your very best all day long.
Riley carded a 40-43-(83) …not low enough to be medalist on this occasion but still one of the day’s best! We could all feel his disappointment BUT that’s what competition golf often feels like whatever age and stage you’re at and if I know Riley I know he will have learned something from the experience AND he will be a better player for it! Good job Riley for battling all day to post your best!
Nick Zarillo did it once again! Congratulations Nick from everyone at HJT. Nick’s feelings for El Campeon may not have improved any but I do feel certain when he returns here during the next stage of his golf journey as a college golfer he will be a better player for never shirking the chance to go up against this toughest of venues.
The Old Tom Morris Flight:
Our 16/17 year old’s made up the flight in this one and early on in the day there was a bunch of potential medalists in contention with no one really stamping their authority on things. The front 9 lowest scorers were Drew Miller (Seminole) and Caden Fockler (The Villages HS) on +5(41) but on their tail we had Jonathan Ring (Rhineland Cutlery) on (42) and EJ Maupin (Lake Mary) on (43).
This one was going to be ALL about who could go lowest on those tough back 9 holes of El Campeon and separate themselves from the rest.
Things can change very quickly in golf and one by one, with the exception of Drew Miller, each of the aforementioned players faced mounting setbacks through the closing 9 holes. This turn of events gradually pushed each of them back a little off the top of the leaderboard and that allowed Will Giger (Kissimmee) to emerge as the closest challenge to our leader.
Will is a young man who joined us only recently and it’s very clear that he is a strong and experienced competitor with a great attitude and it looks like he’s growing in confidence too! Last time out he was only a single shot away from his first HJT Flight medal win and we think it’s only a matter of time before he picks up a low scoring win. In this one, like many, Will had found the early holes of El Campeon difficult and after 9 had carded a +10(45). To remain in the medal hunt he would need to find some consistency in the back 9 holes and keep any errors to a bare minimum. He started with an impressive birdie at 10 and par at 11 and 12. A couple of bogey holes were followed by the return of par at 15 and 16, unfortunately it wasn’t easy to sustain his consistency to the end and 17 and 18 turned into bogey holes too for him.
Will achieved his goal to significantly improve on his front 9 total. He shaved 4 shots off over those tough closing holes to give himself a chance but would it be enough to catch Drew Miller ?
Drew meanwhile was playing to the same level of consistency as his earlier 9 holes. At 10 he made par before bogey at 11. Par at 12 helped steady things again before a disappointing double bogey at 13. We talk about this most weeks but strong and experienced players like Drew have an ability that’s absolutely critical to have if you wish to develop into a top player, it’s the ability to draw on your mental strength and reset after a setback. At all times you must remain confident in your ability and only look at what’s ahead! What followed was his best run of holes all day as he calmly dispatched holes 14 through 17 in par. 18 was a minor setback to finish on bogey but by that stage he had done enough and his final scorecard of 41-41-(82) was enough to take the flight medal win by 4 strokes.
Well done to Will for pushing hard and battling all day long to give it your best shot and Congratulations to Drew from everyone at HJT for achieving your first flight medal win in a very talented group of players. We expect this may prove to be the first win of many for the young man from Seminole who has a very impressive all round game. Drew is accurate off the tee and has a short game that he’s obviously worked hard on, he’s a worthy medalist and deserves a great deal of credit for his performance.
The Young Tommy Morris Flight:
Our 13/15 year old’s in this one and one player in particular stood out all day long as the day’s potential low scorer and medal winner. Braden Hawkins (Clermont) started the day in the best possible way with a birdie at number 1 to get off to the best possible start.
Braden has proved he is a real talent and a fast developing competition player. He joined us earlier this year and immediately became one of our most successful players in this highly competitive and growing age group/flight. Prior to this one Braden had already secured medal wins at both Eagle Ridge GC and Ocala GC, a win at Mission Inn would be his 3rd and it would earn him automatic promotion into our elite Claret Jug Flight alongside our top medal winning players for the remainder of the 2021 season.
His impressive birdie start was the highlight of a front 9 of +4(39) which also gave him par on 4 of those early holes and despite the dropped shots it was strong enough to be the best front 9 score of the entire player field on Saturday.
The closest challenge to Braden was provided by another extremely talented young player who we first met last year. Ann Burel (Orlando) won her player flight convincingly on her first outing with us last year and it was clear to see since then she has been working hard to keep her game sharp. Ann is a young lady with an impressive attitude towards competition and an athletic swing that stands her in good stead, especially off the tee where she is both long and accurate. It was great to welcome Ann back to one of our competition events.
Ann worked hard all day to post her best score. Like many others though nothing was going to come easy for her! A good start with par at the first was followed by a couple of dropped shots, par at number 3 and 5 was unfortunately split by another bogey and 6 through 9 all proved tough for Ann on this occasion. After 9 and posting a +8(43) she was 4 shots off the top of the leaderboard and her aim would be to regroup and make the most of those back 9 holes.
Ann got her challenge off to the best start possible with birdie on 10. Of the remaining 8 holes par was secured on 4 of them and after 18 Ann’s card would read 43-41-(84). It was always going to prove to be tough to hit the top of our leaderboard after Braden’s front 9 total but Ann showed a great deal of quality and a lot of good golf to remain close. Well done Ann!
Braden wasn’t able to better his front 9 total of 39 but he did stay top of the leaderboard. % par holes from 9 on the closing holes was enough to fend off all challenges and record not only the lowest front 9 score of all players but also the day’s lowest total score too. 39-41-(80) was enough to take all of those honors and his 3rd HJT flight medal win of 2021.
Braden played extremely well especially when taking into consideration the toughness of venue and the conditions that meant the majority of our players posting scores, in some cases, 8/10 strokes adrift of their normal scoring averages! We don’t often enthuse too much about scoring 80 but under these circumstances it really was an exceptional effort from an exceptional young player!
Congratulations Braden from everyone at HJT on your flight medal win and on securing your promotion and Claret Jug Player Status for the remainder of the 2021 season, you fully deserve this recognition and we are delighted to see you rewarded for the hard work you put into each competition you play.
The Player Scores:
Our Nearest the Pin Winner:
He’s becoming the one to watch! With his 3rd top spot prize of the 2021 season so far our talented “target man” AJ Burns once again scooped the prize for nearest the pin on number 8 of El Campeon. AJ struck a perfect iron shot to just over 4ft on a very tricky green. Good job AJ, well played young fella!
A special mention to a few people. First of all we want to take this opportunity to once again welcome a new player who made his HJT debut at El Campeon. Erick Hendrickson (Orlando Golf Academy joined us for the first time. Welcome Erick, we hope you enjoyed the experience and felt welcome. We look forward to seeing you again at another of our tournament events soon.
We also wanted to take this opportunity to give a VERY special mention to our youngest player in Saturday’s field, 9 year old Brantley Flannery (Weirsdale)
The challenge of El Campeon is not one that too many of our youngest players feel ready to undertake. It’s tough for all age group players but for one so young it can also be very intimidating in a field heavily populated with older and more experienced competition players. On Saturday Brantley showed all of us exactly why we believe if he continues to work hard he IS going to be a top player. Brantley shot 48-48-(96) but his day was about so much more than that as he worked his socks off to challenge himself against what is arguably going to be one of THE toughest venues he will ever experience in golf!
I watched him hit shot after shot without nerves and could not help but smile at his professionalism, his boundless energy and his sportsmanship. Brantley conducts himself on the golf course like a seasoned mature player within the body of a super impressive and extremely likeable 9 year old kid!
At the par 3 8th hole, along with many others, I watched as Brantley expertly rolled a 30 foot birdie putt across a treacherous green towards the hole…it slowly crept along, and as it did, what was most noticeable was that as it got closer EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE who was watching it, in unison, ALL began to shout at that little white ball to drop! It was a great golfing moment to enjoy and one that sums up how great this game can be in so many ways, Brantley hopefully felt the incredible and spontaneous support we all gave him at that moment, he deserved every bit of it!
Brantley is pictured below with his special HJT award prize for outstanding attitude and great sportsmanship. Thank you Brantley for being such a wonderful young man to have with us on HJT. You did great!
So there you have it, another great day of junior golf competition under our belts. This coming Saturday April 17th we are heading to an exciting new venue. It’s our HJT debut at the impressive Arnold Palmer designed The Legends at Orange Lake in Kissimmee. Registration for this one has been busy since we opened it up a couple of weeks back and as I write this report we have only a few player entry spots remaining.
Click HERE to register or for more info on The Legends and all of our upcoming venues.
Finally we’d like to thank everyone at Mission Inn including Michael Bowery and Nicole Quinn for hosting us on Saturday.
Our final word as always is to thank our Tour Sponsor for everything they do to help us grow and attract more kids to play, build confidence and compete. Thank you Todd and Melissa Coon at TCL- Tri County Landscapes for your ongoing support of junior golf in our community.