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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Rising star Pano takes Ione D. Jones/Doherty ttile

   Alexa Pano, the 12-year-old from Lake Worth, Fla., keeps making a name for herself during the Orange Blossom Tour, a series long on tradition that annually draws some of the top amateur players in the country to the warmth of South Florida.
   Fresh off a tie for third in the South Atlantic Amateur Golf Championship, better known as The Sally, a couple of weeks ago, Pano won the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Championship at Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. over the weekend on the 22nd hole of a hard-fought match-play final with Claire Fitzgerald.
   Pano reached the final with a 2 and 1 semifinal victory over veteran Massachusetts mid-amateur Tara Connelly-Joy. Fitzgerald, a Wisconsin recruit from Sanford, Fla., was a 4 and 3 semifinal winner over Casey Weidenfeld, a junior standout from Pembroke Pines, Fla.
   Pano was the youngest player in the field at age 11 last summer in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club. There was a lot going on that week, so it was easy to overlook Pano when she failed to make match play with rounds of 81 and 75 for a 156 total.
   In retrospect, the second-round 75 over the classic William Flynn design is a pretty darn impressive score for an 11-year-old kid. It was a big-girl golf course set up for a USGA championship.
   Less than a month later, having turned 12 in the interim, Pano was shooting 5-under 211 for 54 holes at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Weyhill Course to win the American Junior Golf Association’s PDQ/Philadelphia Runner Junior by five shots.
   Pano was described at the time as the youngest winner in AJGA history, although I think somebody dug up a win by a slightly younger Lexi Thompson since then. You get the idea, though. The kid can play.
   Apparently Pano has been a star among her fellow junior competitors for a while. In 2013, Pano was one of the youngsters featured in “The Short Game,” a documentary produced by entertainment power couple Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, certified golf nuts those two.
   Pano was filmed playing in the 7- and 8-year-old division at the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst, N.C. Although she wasn’t the only competitor in the film, Pano proved to be an inspiration to junior golfers who have viewed the documentary around the world. Probably exactly what Timberlake and Biel had in mind.
   It will be interesting to see how things play out for this rising star. For the record, I’m guessing Pano will be a tough out if she decides to tee it up at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship this summer at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kleckner, Dengler head list of Philadelphia Section PGA's 2016 award winners

   The Philadelphia Section PGA recently handed out its awards for 2016 and Robert Kleckner of Linfield National Golf Club heads the list as he was named Golf Professional of the Year.
   Kleckner is all-in at Linfield as he is also the owner of the course. He has been generous in making Linfield National available as the home track for college and high school teams and in hosting a Junior Tour stop each year and staging Patriot Golf Days.
   He has also played the often overlooked role of mentoring many young assistant pros.
   The Philadelphia Section PGA has pros at some of the most prestigious courses in the country, but, obviously with a choice like Kleckner at a public-fee course like Linfield National as its top pro in 2016, it does not overlook the job all of its pros are doing, no matter what the address.
   “I am  truly humbled and honored to accept this award,” Kleckner told the Philadelphia Section website. “It is humbling because the Philadelphia Section has so many outstanding professionals who inspire me daily and I am honored to be a part of such a distinguished group of professionals.
   “There are so many people along my journey who have helped me become the PGA professional I am today. I love what I do and I believe that equates to success.”
   The Philadelphia Section also went to a public-fee course, Ed Oliver Golf Club in Wilmington, Del., in naming Rebecca Dengler its Teacher of the Year. It is the first time the Philadelphia Section has recognized Dengler as its top teacher, but she has previously received top teacher designations from the LPGA, Golf Digest and U.S. Kids Golf.
   “I am truly grateful for being selected as the 2016 Philadelphia PGA Teacher of the Year,” Dengler told the Philadelphia Section website. “As a member of the Philadelphia PGA, I am honored to be surrounded by fellow section staff and members who are working diligently to promote the game of golf.
   “My greatest appreciation goes to all the players that have shared with me their joy, love and struggles of the game. I believe these challenges make us all better at the game of life.”
   The pro shop at Aronimink Golf Club earned a pair of 2016 honors, including the Horton Smith Award that went to Aronimink head pro Jeff Kiddie.
   Kiddie serves as the secretary of the section’s executive committee and is the co-chairman of the Philadelphia PGA education committee. In addition to being a member of the section’s rules committee, he is a member of the PGA of America’s rules committee.
   His education committee put together a two-day education summit on a variety of subjects in November and he lends his rules expertise to PGA/USGA Rules of Golf workshops.
   Kiddie was named the Philadelphia Section’s Professional of the Year in 2012 and was recognized by the PGA of America as its Merchandiser of the Year for private courses in 2011.
   Aronimink assistant Bryan Kienke was named the section’s Assistant Professional of the Year. Kienke is a co-chairman of the Philadelphia Assistants’ Organization. He has also been involved in Gregg’s Wings, Inc., an organization that has raised nearly $340,000 for the Cancer Center for Kids at Winthorp University in Mineola, N.Y.
   The section’s Bill Strausbaugh Award went to Joe Hughes, the PGA general manager and head professional at the Penn State University Golf Clubs.
   The Penn State operation also produced the winner of the section’s Player Development Award, which went to Steve Wager. He has worked in a variety of programs aimed at developing golfers of all skill levels.
   The winner of the section’s Youth Player Development Award went to Steve Sieracki, the director of instruction at Indian Spring Golf Course.
   The section’s Merchandiser of the Year awards went to Bob Doria of Makefield Highlands Golf Club among public courses, Sara Muldoon of Hershey Country Club among resort courses and Tom Gilbert of Gulph Mills Golf Club among private courses.
   The section’s Salesperson of the Year award went to Mark Krahe of TaylorMade.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Grassel bests fellow Gators to win The Sally

   The Florida Gators will head into the spring portion of the women’s college golf scene ranked No. 8 in Division I by Golfstat.
   If you want to know why, look no further than last week’s South Atlantic Amateur Golf Championship, known simply as The Sally in women’s amateur golf circles. The Gators turned the venerable event, played at the Oceanside Country Club in Ormond Beach, Fla., into something of a University of Florida travel-squad qualifier.
   Kelly Grassel, a Florida senior from Chesterton, Ind., captured the title, firing a final round of 3-under 69 Saturday at Oceanside for an 8-under 280 total. That was one shot better than fellow Florida senior Maria Torres of Puerto Rico, who matched Grassel’s final-round 69 to finish a shot back at 7-under 281.
   And who did Grassel and Torres have to overtake with their strong final-round finishes? That would be teammate Sam Wagner, a sophomore from Windermere, Fla. Wagner took a one-shot lead into the final round after posting a 54-hole total of 6-under 210 that included a sparkling 5-under 67 in the second round.
   Wagner carded a final round of 1-over 73 to finish in a three-way tie for third at 5-under 283. Wagner has been around forever, qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at age 11. Brynn Walker, then a junior at Radnor, had the misfortune of running into Wagner in the opening round of the 2014 U.S. Girls’ Junior, falling to Wagner, by then a veteran junior campaigner, 7 and 5.
   Central Florida’s Ashley Holder, a senior from Orlando, Fla., got a piece of third place along with Wagner with a blazing 6-under 66 in the final round.
   The third member of that trio tied for third at 5-under 283 falls into the pre-teen phenom class that Wagner once belonged in. That would be Alexa Pano, who won the American Junior Golf Association’s PDQ / Philadelphia Runner Junior at the Saucon Valley Country Club’s Weyhill Course late last summer by five shots. The Lake Worth, Fla. resident was 11 days removed from her 12th birthday when she shot 5-under for 54 holes at Saucon Valley.
   Pano matched par in the final round with a 72 to finish in the tie for third at The Sally. She fired an impressive 3-under 69 in the third round at Oceanside.
   A week earlier the second leg of the Orange Blossom Tour, the Harder Hall Women’s Invitational, was contested at Harder Hall Country Club in Sebring, Fla.
   Texas Christian’s Emma Martin, a junior from Odessa, Fla., was an impressive five-shot winner of the Harder Hall with a 72-hole total of 2-under 286. Martin had a final round of 2-over 74. She took control of the tournament with a 3-under 69 in the third round.
   A teen phenom from England, 14-year-old Annabell Fuller, was the runnerup with a 3-over 291 total. She had a 1-over 73 in the final round.
   Ohio State’s Jessica Porvasnik, a senior from Hinckley, Ohio who reached the round of 16 in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club last summer, finished eighth at 10-over 298. Porvasnik, who was defending her 2016 Harder Hall victory, was in the hunt for a repeat, but fell back with an 80 in the final round.
   Penn State sophomore Lauren Waller, who lost in a playoff to Radnor’s Walker in the 2014 PIAA Class AAA Tournament as a senior at Canon-McMillan, finished in a tie for 10th at 302. Meghan Stasi, the four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion and eight-time Philadelphia Women’s Amateur champion, finished tied for 19th at 307. Stasi, a South Jersey native, lives in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. area.
   The chairwoman of the Harder Hall is western Pennsylvania’s Carol Semple Thompson, who was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2008. She’s been Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur champion, I’m pretty sure 22 times. It might be more, but it’s a lot regardless. Among her many amateur victories are three straight Harder Hall wins from 1990 to 1992.
   The Orange Blossom Tour opened the week before Christmas with Yujeong Son of South Korea taking the title in the Women’s Dixie Amateur at the Woodlands Country Club in Tamarac, Fla. Son reached the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J. last summer before falling to eventual champion and fellow South Korean Eun Jeong Seong.
   While Son is a native South Korean, she lives in Norman, Okla. and has won the Oklahoma Women’s Amateur Championship the last three years running.
   The Orange Blossom Tour continues this week with the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Championship at Coral Ridge Country Club.
   The  Orange Blossom Tour concludes with the Women’s International Four-Ball Championship Feb. 14 and 15 at The Wanderers Club in Wellington, Fla.