On Saturday afternoon we were delighted to welcome yet another strong field of 25 talented junior players to this latest Highlander Junior Tour competition. The venue is a real favorite of ours that we try to get to as often as we can throughout the year, Harbor Hills Country Club.
Tom Leimberger and his team have always shown great commitment to building awareness of junior golf in our community and their own coaching/teaching program includes a number of young players, all at different levels of developing their game, who usually turn out to join us when we play there and this time round was no exception.
This time around there was yet another great reason to look forward to playing Harbor Hills as in about a month or so they will host an exciting PGA event. The venue has been chosen to host a LOCALIQ competition which is a spinoff series of PGA sanctioned events for players normally found playing on the PGA LatinoAmerica Tour. Due to Covid-19 travel issues many of these professionals find themselves unable to travel internationally and in response the PGA have developed the LOCALIQ series.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to play at a good venue either prior to, or immediately after, a big competition event you will understand why we were excited to get back to Harbor Hills and we weren’t disappointed! Even with 4 weeks preparation still to go work is well underway and the first noticeable factor is how good the greens look and play! Well done to the golf course Superintendent and the maintenance team for what they’ve achieved so far and we cannot wait to see what its going to look like when the PGA arrive on September 30th!
Just as a footnote on that we did ask Tom Leimberger if spectators would be allowed to attend as it would be great to watch some live pro-golf so close to home. Unfortunately right now that’s still not looking likely due to the PGA’s Covid-19 rules and desire to protect it’s players. Let’s hope things improve over the next few weeks on that front and we can soon start getting back to attending some live sport!
Anyway, back to our own live golf and once again we welcomed several new entries making their HJT competition debuts. Welcome to Grayson Reeves (Lyman HS), Gabriel Hull( South Daytona), Collin Rich (Harbor Hills), Joe Killpatrick and Sebastian Peck (both from The Villages Charter School) Last but not least and joining us to get a feel for competition golf and playing just a few holes alongside Tom Leimberger was 10 year old local girl Layla Whitney.
A very warm welcome to all of you from everyone here at Highlander Junior Tour, we hope you enjoyed the experience and we hope to see you playing again with us soon.
As its now become the norm our players were separated into flight groups and allocated a tee box by age . On this occasion these were are as follows:
1.The Old Tom Morris Flight – Players aged 15/17
2.The Young Tommy Morris Flight – Players aged 12/14
3.The Bobby Jones Flight – Players aged 11 and under.
The 4th Flight of each competition we operate is our unique Claret Jug Flight which contains only those players who have won 3 or more times during 2020 with HJT. This flight is not age restricted in any way and players in it still play from their own age designated tee box/yardages ensuring fairness and giving everyone an equal chance of winning.
Our results and report on each flight is as follows:
The Claret Jug:
On Saturday 3 players were in contention for the medal on this one and the front/back 9 story on each was a little different. Our youngest Claret Jug player Ryker Huther (Eustis,FL) set a strong and consistent message to the rest of the flight by posting a level par 36 with two birdies as highlights for the front 9.
Only one behind that with a +1(37) front stretch total was Jonathan Ring(Rhineland) hitting back with two birdies of his own(on each of the par 5’s). Elle Folland (The Villages HS), despite a disappointing front 9 by her own standards, fought all the way to stay in it. Elle posted the strongest back 9 total of the three players still in medal contention but unfortunately had left herself with just a little too much to claw back on this occasion eventually having to settle for 3rd spot.
Both of our remaining players had their back 9 woes. After 13 both were still tied for the lead and at 14 it was Ryker who stumbled and dropped 4 over the next two holes. Jonathan, having regained the momentum in this one, was shortly to suffer too on a golf course that was playing tough. Competition golf is not easy on us at times and it took an opportunity to remind Jonathan of just that as he tried to close out another win and unfortunately at 17 it took just one unfortunate hole to let that lead slip and for Ryker to take advantage.
Ryker, despite suffering his own setback with those earlier bogeys, recovered in time from that setback to show his own experience and character to finally close out the win with two finishing pars to take the medal on this one by two strokes posting a 78. Jonathan finished two behind (80)
Another good win for Ryker and a little disappointing for Jonathan. It was exciting for all of us to see the action unfold but once again it goes to show that particularly in our Claret Jug Flight no player is guaranteed the win as every player we have in there is capable of grabbing the medal.
Congratulations Ryker Huther once again from everyone at HJT!
The Old Tom Morris Flight:
A big field of competitors in this one on Saturday and it was to become a two way battle for a medal between one of our newest HJT competitors Caleb Dearing(Sorrento, Fl) and one of our regular players EJ Maupin (Lyman HS). Its always great to have new players joining us as it keeps the challenge fresh for everyone and Caleb is another great example of that, he’s an experienced and accomplished talent who’s developing into a fine young player.
EJ has played many times with us and is already a previous HJT medal winner. He too is a talented player who enjoys competing and we really enjoy watching him play at this stage of his golf journey as he is developing more consistency and adding to his competition experience. On Saturday EJ and Caleb played together and it provided the rest of us with a great match to watch.
They were the two standout performers in this flight on Saturday and they got there in similar fashion to our earlier flight players by starting strong! Caleb deserves a very special mention for being our only below par player through the front 9 by shooting a -1 (35). A birdie on the first was a great way to start a really strong and consistent front nine and another was added at number 8.
EJ’s front nine was strong and consistent. A birdie at the par 5 6th and 5 pars kept him close and as they both turned for the back 9 Caleb led by only two strokes.
Caleb forced home his intent to keep the lead by starting the back nine as he had the front, with another birdie! He was to add to the birdie count at 13 too.
EJ will always keep on battling to post his best and both of these players are experienced enough to understand how quickly things can change in stroke play golf. One bad hole is often enough to turn a lead around. Caleb on the other hand was in no mood to post anything but a strong winning score and his consistency and those two earlier mentioned birdies helped him along to a back 9 total of (+1) 37 and a level par round of 72 to eventually take it from EJ by 5 strokes.
For those of us lucky enough to watch some of this it was great to see. Incidentally, and we spoke about this before, this match was played to a finish in just over 3 hours! Two strong and talented young players playing great stroke play competition golf posting scores of 72 and 77 respectively….just think about that next time you hear of 5 hour plus rounds of golf ! Well done to you both for showing us all another example that golf should NOT be a slow sport!
Congratulations Caleb on securing your first medal win from everyone at HJT, Harbor Hills was showing most yesterday (especially on the back 9) it can be tough and your score is even more impressive when taking that into account. We hope to see a few more displays like this as we feel you would be a very worthy addition to our group of Claret Jug players.
The Young Tommy Morris Flight:
We had our fair share of 2 way medal battles on Saturday which are great for everyone to watch and exciting for all of the neutral supporters however sometimes one player just steps up and from start to finish puts on a display of fine golf that just doesn’t allow anyone else an opportunity to catch him/her!
12 year old Gabriel Hull (South Daytona) was THAT player on Saturday! Gabriel was making his HJT debut and doing it in fine style, and he’s yet another great example of a young player who despite his young years is already experienced enough to know that even a disappointing early start can be overcome with patience, character and some great golf!
How about this for a start, Double bogey, Bogey and Eagle on the first 3 holes! The Eagle was on the first par 5 which probably tells us all something about the distance and accuracy young Gabriel has ….the next par 5 would provide him with a birdie! The front 9 were completed in 39, a good showing but not great. 10 was a disappointing bogey.
The memorable stuff was to begin as he got to the 11th tee and challenged himself to go as low as possible on the remainder of the back 9 (the same back 9 that had caused most players more problems than the front!) A birdie on 11 set the tone and another arrived at 14. Between them he secured par on 5 of the remaining 6 holes and remember that par 5 Eagle earlier in the day ?
Harbor Hills final hole is a par 5, never an easy hole and especially in stroke play competition golf. Do you know where I’m going with this yet ? Yes, Gabriel finished off a wonderful back 9 performance with another Eagle to post an exceptional (and best of the day) -3 (33) and a final scorecard of level par 72. Two Eagles, Three Birdies and Seven par holes along the way….that’s some scorecard right there! Some great golf in there and it was hard to keep the smile off this young golfer’s face as he completed a great debut win and left as our medal winner.
Congratulations Gabriel Hull from everyone at HJT. It was a pleasure to have you and your family along to play and we hope this may be the first of many opportunities to watch you play and develop in your golf journey.
The Bobby Jones Flight:
Our youngest developing talent. Always great to watch. Expect to see some great golf, many inconsistencies, some rash decision making and occasionally a little bit of petulance and temper as our youngest strive to try to get every shot on target…those of us old stalwarts of golf know this is seldom going to be possible all of the time however our job with these youngsters at this stage is to help where we can and teach them that even the bad stuff they experience on the golf course can be overcome and time and patience are the two key things they need to learn as both will guarantee they will get better.
All of the players in our Bobby Jones Flight on Saturday are already displaying strong golfing ability and as they continue to work hard at practice and challenge themselves in competition we feel sure that each of them has a bright future in the game. Right now though we believe we should NOT be concentrating too heavily on who shot what score etc. as doing so can add to any pressure they may feel they are under to play well. Instead we should all be doing everything we can to help our youngest players enjoy playing the game, having fun and learning the many life lessons that golf gives to us.
Our Bobby Jones Flight on Saturday was to throw up yet another of those contests for the medal. Deya Shaktawat aged 11 (Lady Lake) and Aiden Skrocki aged 10 (The Villages Golf Academy) are both very similar in ability and we have enjoyed watching both develop really well when playing competitively over the last year.
When the scores were in they both finished the day tied for the lead and so, in true Highlander Junior Tour tradition, it was decided that to provide maximum fairness and a little excitement for our players and spectators we would head back down to the tee and play number 1 and number 9 in rotation in order to decide on the final outcome.
Exciting it certainly WAS! We love so many things about watching players of this age group play…Aiden plays fast and ready golf…he quickly looks, swings and hits! Deya takes a little more time and her pre-shot routine serves her just as well as Aiden’s. Being taller helps Deya in driving distance but give Aiden a sight of the green and his approach shots are excellent. It was a really great play-off for us all to watch and not suprisingly both kids went par-par on both the first and second play off holes with the highlight being Deya’s 6 foot downhill putt to keep her in the match!
On the third play off hole Aiden made par but presented Deya with an opening following her exceptional approach shot, a chance to win it with a birdie putt, unfortunately the Harbor Hills greens present very few easy putts right now and she ran it a few feet past the hole. How quickly things change in stroke play golf as now she HAD to make the next one. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and so after a very sporting “thank you” greeting between both players it was Aiden who took the medal home. Its tough, but also fair to lose in a play-off and while Deya may be disappointed we know she will bounce back quickly as she has both talent and great character for such a young player.
Well played to both players for their efforts and Congratulations from everyone at HJT to Aiden Skrocki on securing the win.
What a way to finish the day that was! An extra 3 hole play-off, a Double-Eagle debut player medalist and some strong scoring and individual performances. Thank you Harbor Hills as always for hosting our junior golfers and for being in such fine shape!
We move on to next week and its Eagle Ridge GC in Summerfield. Always a popular venue and one where low scores can often be achieved. We hope to see as many of you as possible then. Registration is open now and you can find the page by clicking HERE