Let’s start with a statement that is unquestionably true for all. 2020 was memorable! For so many reasons, most of them bad, we will always remember THAT year more than most of the others that came before!
It’s true that not everything went badly wrong, it’s just that most of it did and one way or another we all suffered in some way. As we embark on a brand new year we should all be thankful for the small things we HAVE still been able to achieve and do, the “normal” things that while irrelevant in the big picture overall have kept us active, social and sane! Golf is right up there as one of them for us, and hopefully it is for you too, without it and the weekly opportunities it brought us to meet up with our extended “Highlander family” and interact with our players and their families I fear 2020 would have been even more bleak than it proved to be!
Please don’t worry …I don’t intend continuing on this rather dark theme anymore than I have done already, 2020 also brought many great moments for us that will live long in our memory and we have to thank our players for providing them!
Let’s not forget our HJT players, and our Wee Highlanders too, challenge themselves every time they step onto the 1st tee in a junior competition and that’s something that’s definitely not an easy thing to do. Don’t ever be fooled ..competition golf is tough for all of them, regardless of age and experience, and already they have each shown they have great strength of character just by coming along to compete. They then entertain us with their skills and efforts, they make us smile and sometimes hurt for what THEY are going through when things go wrong and for all of that we should be really thankful to each and every one of them.
I believe we are building something a little bit special with HJT. We have a strong mix of talented young players across all age groups playing with us and they are backed by great parents and extraordinary supporters of what we are trying to do. If you know us you will know by now we are not glory-seekers who need your constant reassurance that we are providing a good product to you and your junior golfer(s) We believe we DO and our growth in the last few months of 2020 back that up, between us we made the very best we could out of 2020 for our golfing kids and for each other and while we are still a long way from being over the pandemic we can at least look forward to even better and more fun times ahead together! Thank you all for your support, we really do appreciate it!
It’s 2021 and for us that means more venues than before, more players, more competition, some unique experiences and even more deserving winners than before. We have big plans and our 2021 New Year resolution is to work even harder to spread the word and build our awareness in as many ways as we can. Please help if you can by telling as many of your golfing friends as possible about HJT. This year, with your help, we want to be giving even more young players opportunities to play the game for life.
Eagle Ridge GC continue to provide us with great support too. At this time of year it’s a tough job to keep finding venues who are happy to provide us with the number of tee times we need without hiking prices up at every opportunity. We always want to ensure we are giving you value for money and affordable entry fees but we are also realistic and we understand that some venues will only work with us in quieter periods unless we pay more. It’s a balance that we have to work with so when we have venues like Eagle Ridge GC who are supportive enough of junior golf that they promise to keep prices at same level as last year, and throughout the whole year, we are extremely grateful to them. Thank you Dale Smauder and Eagle Ridge GC.
For our season opener we wanted to establish a new tradition. It seems sensible as our 600+ year old game is full of wonderful traditions. For HJT we wanted to start the year with our Champion Golfer and Claret Jug Trophy winner- Nick Zarillo striking the first ball of the new year and opening our new season. As a crowd of parents and players gathered on the first tee Nick duly obliged and season 2021 was officially underway.
You may recall last year we established an additional player flight that we called The Claret Jug Flight. This flight was exclusively for flight medal winners of ALL ages who had won a flight medal on 3 or more occasions. Each successful player who gains entry will then compete with only other Claret Jug players. It will be fair and challenging to all with each player playing from the tee box and course yardage determined by player’s age.
This additional flight proved to be very successful and challenging for all players and it is our intention to do the same during 2021. For now, and until we can start populating that flight with our most successful winning players of early 2021 we will revert back to our pre-Claret Jug flight status for all players based on the age of each.
The Old Tom Morris Flight:
Our most senior players 16-18 were battling it out in this one and for one player who is embarking on what is arguably his biggest year yet in Junior Golf to date it was back to business as usual. Our 2020 Champion Golfer began his HJT 2021 season just as he had finished the previous year with another impressive win.
The highlights for Nick include 3 birdies, a front nine -1 (35) to make him the only player in the field to post a red figure and a level par winning score of even par 71.Nick is rapidly approaching an exciting time as his college academic and golfing career will begin in 2021. He is a true example of achieving your goals in junior golf by starting young, practicing and working hard and being relentless in his pursuit of constant improvement. He helps make our junior tour better in many ways. Most of all he stands out to our younger players as a first class role model through his character and behavior both on and off the golf course. Congratulations Nick, played 1-won 1!
Before we leave this flight we want to give a special mention too to another two of our players in this flight. Hunter Lewis is also in his final year with us and based on his Eagle Ridge performance he’s finding form at just the right time. On Saturday his 39-38-77 was enough to grab the runner-up spot and it was great to see Hunter back scoring well again. Hunter is one of our most humble, focused and hard working young players on our tour and last season he would be a little disappointed with things overall, he had a number of good finishes and moments but was always just short of the consistency he was working hard to achieve, his round on Saturday saw him shoot an impressive 4 birdies! It could have been an even more impressive round but it does show that he is clearly intent on making 2021 a great year, we hope so too!
Caden Fockler also heads into a big golf year. Caden is a strong and improving experienced competition player who, similar to Hunter, had some good moments in 2020 and some frustrations too. He is also an integral and valuable player for The Villages High School and as senior players depart he will be keen to set his target on becoming the number 1 pick on that team this year too. It all began well here for Caden with an impressive 39-39-78 to start the year in impressive fashion.
The Young Tommy Morris Flight:
Our mid-range boys 12-15 were chasing the win in this flight and it came down to a straight battle between regular HJT players Kale Fashik (Belleview) and AJ Burns (Lecanto HS). Kale was looking to add another win to record after taking the medal recently in The Villages HJT competition and AJ was hoping to be back in the medal hunt after a period of 2020 where he was struggling to find some consistency in his game.
This was a really close one! AJ was clubhouse leader and as we watched Kale’s scores for the closing holes it looked like it could so easily have gone to a play-off between these two talented young players. By the narrowest of margins, and after an unfortunate bogey finish on 18 for Kale, it would be AJ who took the medal by that one stroke to start his golf season 2021 in style!
We keep saying it but golf is a game of slim margins. Tough on Kale but he’s a fine young player with great faith in his ability and he will bounce back, for AJ this one is very sweet indeed. He’s an exceptional young man who’s quiet and laid back on the golf course and great fun to be around off it. He has more than enough ability to make this win the first of many and we are delighted to see him back playing some really fine golf. Congratulations AJ!
The Annika Sorenstam Flight:
We have made no secret about this. We would dearly love to bring more girls into the HJT family to play junior competition golf regularly. We are of course very lucky already to have a strong group of talented junior girls playing with us but we would dearly like to add even more competition into the mix by bringing additional players in.
On Saturday we had 5 talented young ladies competing for the first winners medal of 2021 and we made the decision to add an additional ladies flight as a result. For the first time we brought you our Annika Sorenstam Flight in honor of the iconic hall of fame Swedish wonder who amassed 90 career wins, 10 Majors and to this day remains the only LPGA player to ever shoot a competition 59! What a wonderful role model for our players Annika Sorenstam has been?
Our players age from 13-17 (playing from their own relevant tee box yardages) Of the field 4 of these girls represent The Villages Charter Schools, either Middle School or High School.
Our previous flight was hard to call and this one was even more difficult! Elle Folland is always great to watch when she is playing well and she is usually very close to the top of every HJT leaderboard. On Saturday she showed big signs that she is once again approaching the kind of consistency she is very capable of displaying regularly with a round of 38-38-76. Achieving par on 13 holes and nothing worse than bogey is a warning to everyone that 2021 could prove to be a very good year for this talented young lady golfer!
Maggie Potash(Black Bear GC) was our runner-up for Champion Golfer of the Year 2020. Her display over 36 holes to run Nick Zarillo as close as she did by taking the outcome to a 3 extra holes sudden death play-off was nothing short of exceptional! For one who is still so young Maggie has amassed a wealth of tournament knowledge and experience and it really does show. She is quiet and polite, while at the same time, supremely confident in the ability that she has to play consistently well in competition golf. Like Elle she understands that competition golf wins begin by making par as often as possible and then pouncing on the opportunities that will come up to do better. Maggie too shot 37-39-76 to share runner up spot with Elle and share the 2nd best field total for the day too!
It would require yet another play-off to separate Elle and Maggie. This one went to 1 additional extra hole and it was won by Maggie making par and Elle unfortunately missing a putt for bogey. For Elle it was unfortunate but experience is on her side and while disappointed we know her well enough to know she will be back stronger than ever! For Maggie, while this one didn’t make up for the disappointment of the previous play off she was involved in, the important thing is that right now, in her first competition of 2021, Maggie Potash has a flight winners medal. Congratulations Maggie!
Just before we sign off from our girls we do also wish to mention another fine performance from a young lady who is showing wonderful improvement. On Saturday Katie Allen (Fruitland Park) was placed 3rd in this flight . Katie is showing exceptional commitment each week she plays and her final round of 43-42-85 at Eagle Ridge was her best score to date in an HJT competition. Katie is a hugely popular young lady on our tour with so many supporters very keen to see her continuing to do well. Well done Katie, we are very proud to have you playing with us and we are pleased to be a part of your golf journey.
The Bobby Jones Flight:
Our youngest group of boys aged 9-11 were involved in this one. The emphasis we place on these young talents is always the same when we address them on the first tee. Priority number 1 is to ensure you have fun playing the game that will hopefully be with them for life. Improvement starts by ensuring you have good temperament, good character and sportsmanship and that you actually enjoy the experience that junior golf competition brings.
These players are often the most fun to follow and watch. They come in all shapes and sizes and it’s immediately apparent that they all work really hard to find a swing that works for them when they play. These are of course the junior players who are going to have more changes and have to adapt more than any other players as they grow.
On Saturday at Eagle Ridge we welcomed 2 new players into our group who were both playing in their 1st HJT junior golf competition. Welcome to Keating Holland (Ann Arbor MI) and Riley Sillaway (Longwood,Fl). We hope you enjoyed the experience.
The Bobby Jones flight would give us yet another extremely close thing with two players in contention during most of the day. Bobby Jones Potash (Black Bear GC) is a serial medal winner on our tour. He is an extremely talented young man who always gives 100% every time he plays, he is very confident in his ability and wears his heart on his sleeve so when things are not going his way he can lose a bit of focus by reacting to that. There are strong signs that he’s learning to deal with the game’s emotional side much better too and that’s hopefully going to translate into more consistent play, more wins and more fun for Bobby too! On Saturday Bobby was our clubhouse leader in this flight on a final round score of 40-38-78.
Riley Sillaway looks every inch the young golfer. From the confident swing to the Bryson De Chambeau hat and he can certainly play a bit too! We love to welcome new young players of all ages to play on our tour and we particularly love it when they are experienced good players like Riley. Good players make other players play better and strive to keep improving. Riley’s overall play is very good, he’s strong off the tee with a good short game to match and he is definitely a great addition to our tour. We hope we see much more of Riley in the future.
We said it was close and it was, one stroke was the narrow margin between them with Riley recording a 40-37-77 to take the medal and round off a great HJT debut with a win. Congratulations Riley from everyone at HJT.
It was a great way to start 2021. Eagle Ridge was once again a great host venue in fine condition and our players, both old and new, put on a great show.
Next up for us it’s Summerglen GC in Ocala on Saturday 9th January. It will be a normal day’s junior competition but running alongside there will be an added fun element as we are adding an additional flight exclusively for our Seniors, and by that we mean our Adult Seniors who would like the opportunity to relive their own youth and play a round of stroke play golf alongside their favorite junior player!
Moms, Dads, Grandparents or friends you are all welcome to come along and put your golf game to the test alongside our talented juniors!
If you are up for either please click on the link HERE for more info. See you Saturday, Keith.