The Royce Brook All-Stars, a talented group of junior players representing New Jersey, made it all the way to the final of the PGA Junior League Championship, presented by National Car Rental, this weekend at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Royce Brook stars came up on the short end of a 6.5-5.5 decision to Georgia, but that doesn’t take away one little bit from the experience these young players had in Scottsdale and have had being a part of the PGA Junior League program.
The Royce Brook All-Stars were put together by Anthony Latham, the PGA Director of Junior Development at Royce Brook Golf Club in north-central New Jersey. Several of the 10 boys and girls who make up the team are familiar to those who follow my posts on the Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour.
One of the veterans of this year’s Royce Brook team is 14-year-old Joshua Ryan, who reached the PIAA Class AAA Championship as a freshman with Norristown this fall. Last summer Ryan captured the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Junior-Junior championship at Phoenixville Country Club.
Ryan’s mother Michelle told me at the District One Class AAA Tournament that Josh’s success at a relatively young age has a lot to do with the experience he’s gained competing in the PGA Junior League program.
Joining Ryan on the Royce Brook All-Stars roster were: Garrett Engle, like Ryan a 14-year-old; Calen Sanderson, 13, Nathan Drogin, 13, Logan Paczewski, 13, Franklin Zhu, 12, Hunter Po, 12, Adrian Jordan, 11, Katie Li, 11, and Megan Meng, 11. I’m going to guess that Latham’s assistant coach, Colin Sanderson, is related to Calen.
The Royce Brook All-Stars advanced to Scottsdale by winning the Mid-Atlantic Regional crown for the fourth straight year. The Mid-Atlantic tourney was held in September at LedgeRock Golf Club in Berks County. Ryan, Sanderson, Zhu and Paczewski were the returning players from last year’s team that reached the nationals.
Before play got under way Friday, there was a skills challenge Thursday and Ryan outbombed Engle to capture the long-drive competition. Ryan’s winning drive was 312 yards, just four yards farther than his teammate.
There’s a neat Q&A with Ryan on the PGA of America website, including a picture of him receiving his bronze medal from former 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott at the 2014 Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, which kicks off Masters week at Augusta National Golf Club each year.
The Royce Brook All-Stars swept to a 3-0-0 record over Texas, Arkansas and Illinois to win the Ryder Division and advance to Sunday’s national final against Georgia, which has played for the championship in each of the six years of the PGA Junior League’s existence.
The PGA Junior League competition consists of nine-hole matches in which trios of players play a scramble format. Teams compete for “flags” at the end of each three-hole segment. No penalty includes a distance factor and all hazards are lateral. They’re kids, they don’t want a fast, fun format bogged down with a discussion of where an errant shot crossed the hazard.
Royce Brook’s next-to-last threesome of Li, Meng and Jordan conceded a putt on the final hole that gave their opponents, William Love, 14, Harris Barth, 13 and Lucas Jinglov, 13, the clinching half-point.
Watch out for Li, it sounds like she’s a player. She holed a 60-foot bomb for birdie on the 13th hole that kept her team in the running right to the final hole.
Engle and Paczewski erupted for a stretch of three straight birdies that sparked Royce Brook’s rally from an early deficit.
Ryan and Georgia’s Ethan Gao, a 12-year-old from Alpharetta, Ga., put on quite a show in the last match of the day. On the 378-yard, par-4 15th hole, Ryan stuck his approach from 180 yards away to three feet while Gao, firing from well below the elevated green, hit his approach from 70 yards to 12 feet and matched Ryan’s birdie.
You can watch all these future stars when The Golf Channel broadcasts the final Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST). It will be rebroadcast later that night (12:30 a.m. EST, 9:30 PST) and again Friday, Dec. 15 (12 noon EST, 9 a.m. PST).