FLEETWOOD – Methacton senior Kyle Vance has a little unfinished business before he wraps up his scholastic career.
Vance has been one of the best players in District One since he burst on to the scene by winning the Class AAA district title as a freshman. But Vance has never been able to figure out the tricky Heritage Hills Golf Resort course, where the PIAA Tournament has been held since 2002.
He'll get another shot at Heritage Hills next week after carding a 1-over 73 and finishing in a tie for 11th at Monday’s PIAA Class AAA East Regional at Golden Oaks Golf Club.
He might have to get past red-hot Pioneer Athletic Conference rival Ben Pochet, though, to get a state title. Pochet, a junior at Spring-Ford, backed up his District One title from last week at Turtle Creek Golf Course with a sizzling 5-under 67 over the 6,648-yard, par-72 Golden Oaks layout for a three-shot victory in summerlike conditions.
“I feel pretty good about the way I’m hitting the ball, so we’ll see how I do next week,” said Vance, who has committed to play at Kansas State.
It’s not as if Vance needs success at the state tournament to validate his golfing credentials. No, he showed the kind of player he is on the national stage this summer, qualifying for match play at the U.S. Junior Amateur at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. and finishing in a tie for third at the Junior PGA Championship at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I.
“There were a lot of college coaches around at those events and I felt like I needed to prove I was the player people expect me to be,” said Vance, who lost in a playoff for the regional title at Golden Oaks a year ago. “I felt like I could play with those guys. Those tournaments are a lot more stressful than the high school tournaments are, so I’m used to that.”
I caught up with Vance on the par-3 ninth hole and watched him play the back nine and finish on one. His round began on the second in the shotgun start. Let’s get this out of the way: Vance just kills it with his driver. He is seriously long off the tee.
He had maybe 70 yards left on No. 10, listed as 380 yards on the card. He had maybe a little more than 50 yards into 12, listed as 409 on the card. And he couldn’t have had more than 50 yards left on the 456-yard 17th hole. It’s downhill, but still … it was least a 380-yard drive. At least.
But Vance is more than just a bomber and he managed his game quite well Monday.
He got off to a slow start with a double bogey at three and a bogey at four, but bounced back with birdies at the two par-5s on the front side, five and eight, to make the turn at 1-over, but with No. 1 still to play.
He only made one birdie on the back when he holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th.
Vance tried a power cut off the tee at the 533-yard, par-5 18th, but ended up in the trees on the right. He chipped out, but his approach ended up in the back bunker and he couldn’t get it up and down and settled for a bogey on what should be a birdie hole for him.
“I wanted to stay away from the water on the left and I just overdid it a little,” Vance said.
Finishing up on the 393-yard first hole, Vance bombed one more drive to maybe 60 yards away, chipped it to 12 feet and just missed a birdie try that would have given him an even-par round.
Vance could have teed it up in a big American Junior Golf Association event, The PING Invitational at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. two weekends ago, but he wanted to stick with his Methacton teammates in the District One team competition and, well, he wanted another shot at Heritage Hills.
“I was invited to play there, but the team came first,” Vance said. “School golf is still my priority. I was just trying to hit fairways and greens out here today. My wedges into the greens weren’t that good today, so I’ll be working on that. I’ve been really hitting it well.”
He isn’t the only one hitting it well. Pochet had driver in his hand on most of the holes at Golden Oaks and ripped off six birdies against one bogey. His career-best round had been the 3-under 69 he fired at Turtle Creek to nail down the district title last week. He took two more shots off that Monday.
“I think I hit all 18 greens in regulation and I hit two of the par-5s in two,” said Pochet, a member at Spring-Ford Country Club. “I had one three-putt. There’s really no reason not to hit driver because I’m hitting it so well right now.
“Why take an iron off, say No. 10, and be 150 yards away when you can hit driver and have just 50 yards.”
Pochet birdied all four par-5s at Golden Oaks, five, eight, 11 and 18 as well as two of the short par-3s, nine and 13. His only bogey came when he three-putted the seventh.
Like Vance, Pochet is looking forward to another trip to Heritage Hills.
“It’a a ball-striker’s course,” Pochet said of Heritage Hills. “Just like here, you have to keep your ball in play.”
Another PAC-10 player who will be headed for Heritage Hills, Norristown sophomore Caleb Ryan, did a little reconnaissance mission over the weekend, winning the 16-to-18 age group with an even-par 71 in a Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour event Saturday at the York County layout.
Ryan matched par with a 72 at Golden Oaks Monday to finish in a tie for sixth.
“I’ve tried to play a weekend tournament before each of the high school tournaments, before PAC-10s, districts and this,” said Ryan, who works on his game with Mark Sheftic, the head of instruction at Merion Golf Club. “I liked Heritage Hills. I think it fits my game.”
Ryan’s steady round Monday featured birdies at five, 11 and 17 and bogeys at four, where he started, 15 and 16.
“That’s my game, grind it out and make some birdies when I can,” Ryan said.
Vance, Pochet and Ryan are part of a group of 10 District One players who moved on to Heritage Hills.
Pope John Paul II’s J.T. Spina fired a 2-under 70 and shared second place with Sam Beauregard of Manheim Township, three shots back of Pochet. Wills Montgomery of Downingtown East finished in a tie for fourth with Nazareth Prep’s Victor Tavares at 1-under 71.
Joining Vance in the tie for 11th at 73 were fellow District One players David Kim of Upper Dublin, Ron Robinson of North Penn and Luke Shevlin of West Chester Rustin. Nick Gianelos of Unionville finished in a tie for 16th with a 74. Bishop Shanahan’s Ryan Conners survived a five-man playoff for the last four tickets to Heritage Hills after finishing in a tie for 21st with a 76.
Pochet’s Spring-Ford teammate, Connor Boham, and Radnor sophomore Jake Calamaro just missed the cut at 78.
The only player at 76 who did not survive the playoff was La Salle’s Steve Lorenzo. I’m going to guess it was Steve’s brother Tim who just missed the playoff with a 77.
On the girls side, Conestoga’s Samantha Yao matched Pochet’s double by adding the East Regional title to the District One crown she won last week. Yao, a member at White Manor Country Club, fired a 1-under 71 to finish four shots clear of Radnor senior Gabby Kim, who was defending the East Regional title she won a year ago, and Samantha Fitzinger of Emmaus.
Unlike last week’s district-clinching round at Turtle Creek when she made 16 pars, Yao had six birdies and five bogeys Monday.
Gabby Kim’s younger sister June will be making the trip to Heritage Hills after carding a 79. Wissahickon’s Cristea Park survived a playoff among five players for the last three berths at the state tournament after finishing in a tie for 10th with an 82.
Downingtown East’s Maddie McCook was one of the casualties of that playoff after also carding an 82.
In the boys AA competition, Lower Moreland’s Daniel Galbreath was the only District One champion who failed to win a regional crown, although it took a playoff to deny him. Galbreath lost to R.J. Van Tash of Lancaster Catholic in a playoff after both players matched par with 72s.
Devon Prep’s Bryan Donato is headed for Heritage Hills after posting a 75.
In the girls AA competition, Nina Kouchi of New Hope-Solebury added an East Regional title to her District One championship with a solid 2-over 74. Kouchi finished three shots ahead of Grace Stillman of Lancaster Mennonite, who had a 77.