The Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour recently handed out its season-ending awards and J.T. Spina of Schwenksville received Player of the Year honors in the boys’ 16-to-18 division.
Spina’s success on the Junior Tour equated to a strong postseason showing on the scholastic scene as the Pope John Paul II junior was the top finisher among the District One players in the PIAA Class AAA field, finishing in a tie for third at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort.
Spina’s father John is one of the assistant pros at Philadelphia Cricket Club and son credits dad with getting him started in the game.
“My dad introduced me to the game of golf when I was young and I have loved it ever since,” J.T. Spina told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “I like the instant gratification of positive results after spending time practicing.”
The Sam Penecale scoring-average leaders for each age group were also recognized. The award is named in memory of the longtime Whitemarsh Valley Country Club head pro who was a big proponent of junior golf and claimed he never charged a junior golfer for a lesson.
The crown in the 16-to-18 division went to Jack Halleron of Timonium, Md. with a scoring average of 73.71.
“I started playing golf because my father played,” Halleron told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “We could go to the range together when I was 6-years old and started playing rounds together when I was 8.”
Nikita Romanov of Wilmington, Del. was the Player of the Year in the boys’ 13-to-15 division.
“The reason I started playing golf was because since my parents work at an ice rink, to get to the rink you have to drive through the golf course,” Romanov told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “I used to skate, so I would pass by and see the course so much until I asked my mom if I could buy some golf clubs. I went to the range with them and that’s how I fell in love with the game.”
Carson Bacha of York captured the scoring-average title in the 13-to-15 division with an average of 75.64. Like Spina, Bacha’s Junior Tour success spilled over to the high school season as the Central York freshman finished alone in fifth in the PIAA Class AAA Tournament at Heritage Hills.
I’ve covered the state tournament at Heritage Hills many times and it’s not often a freshman shows up with such a high finish in his state debut. Not many freshmen even get there.
Casey Oppenheimer of Conshohocken was the Player of the Year in the girls’ 16-to-18 division. Like many of her fellow Junior Tour standouts, golf is a family affair for Oppenheimer.
“I started playing golf because my whole family loved the game,” Oppenheimer told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “It was nice to be able to play a sport together.”
Esther Park of Wilmington, Del. had the best scoring average in the 16-to-18 division, an average of 78.60.
“It was my first 18-hole tournament series, that’s why PJT is special to me,” Park told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “It’s how I met a lot of my friends I have today.”
The Player of the Year in the girls’ 13-to-15 division is a real rising star in Blue Bell’s Elizabeth Beek, a sixth-grader at Wissahickon Middle School.
“This award is significant to me because I worked very hard at improving my game this year and it is nice to see it pay off,” Beek told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “I learned that you get out of it what you put into it.”
Haley Quickel of Middletown, Del. is another name to watch as she had the best scoring average in the 13-to-15 division with an average of 82.20.
“I started playing golf because both of my parents play and I live on a golf course,” Quickel told the Philadelphia Section PGA website.
The only sweep of both Player of the Year and scoring-average awards came from Joshua Ryan of Norristown among the 12-and-under nine-holers. Ryan’s scoring average was 38.63.
Ryan is quick to credit older brother Caleb with helping him continue to improve. Caleb Ryan, a regular on Junior Tour leaderboards all summer, had a strong sophomore season at Norristown High, earning a trip to the PIAA Class AAA Tournament at Heritage Hills.
“I started playing golf because I watched my brother Caleb play,” Joshua Ryan told the Philadelphia Section PGA website. “It looked fun to play in tournaments and I wanted to be out there playing, too. It’s great to have a brother who plays too, because I can learn from him and practice with him.
“We like to compete a lot, but we have a lot of fun together.”