Penn Charter senior Brian Isztwan is a member at Huntingdon Valley Country Club, so it might not be a big surprise to see him dominate the first two rounds of the American Junior Golf Association Philadelphia Junior Sunday and Monday.
Isztwan blitzed the tricky, 6,896-yard, par-70 William Flynn design to the tune of a 1-under 69 and a special 4-under 66. He was at 5-under par 135 with, near as I can tell, a six-shot lead over the field. Again, playing on his home course. So, mortal lock, right?
Didn’t quite turn out that way. Isztwan fell back with an up-and-down 5-over 75 in Tuesday’s final round and settled for second at even-par 210, a shot behind Sho Wai Wu of China, who carded a final-round 68 to finish at 1-under 209.
Wu applied the pressure with four birdies in his first six holes, including three straight from holes 4 through 6.
I had a chance to caddy for Isztwan for 36 holes in the Christman Cup a couple of weeks ago at Stonewall’s North Course. Mental toughness is not his problem. He really battled under tough conditions that included a rain delay that forced the second round to be completed the next day and finished tied for fifth.
A lot of golf observers wonder why so many players seem so seasoned at such a young age these days. It’s because the AJGA, among other junior golf organizations and events, puts them in tough situations when they’re still just 17 or younger.
I’m pretty sure Isztwan had never led an AJGA event by six shots with a round to go. Think that’s an easy position to be in? What, you’ve never been there before? Exactly.
The game had to seem easy to Isztwan when he strolled around his home course in the middle round without a bogey, with four birdies, three of them in a brilliant back-nine 32, for a 4-under 66.
But Isztwan is smart enough to know that golf isn’t an easy game. He only had one less birdie in the final round, three of them. But this time there were six bogeys and a double bogey. It had to be frustrating, but I can guarantee you he was battling the whole way.
It still was a runnerup finish in an AJGA event, no small feat. He was still three shots clear of the rest of the field as Adam Xiao of Manhasset, N.Y., Kritchayapal Sincahi of Taiwan and Cody Carroll of Jacksonville, Fla. finished tied for third at 3-over 213. Xiao and Sinchai matched par in the final round, each carding a 70, while Carroll had a 71.
It was the second top-five finish in an AJGA event this month for Isztwan. I spent so much time chronicling our Christman Cup experience, I failed to mention Isztwan was coming off a tie for fifth in the AJGA Otter Creek Junior Championship, presented by Circle K, the week of the Fourth of July at Otter Creek Golf Course in Columbus, Ind. His 4-under 212 at Otter Creek included a middle round of 4-under 68.
It’s been a pretty good summer for Isztwan and that’s what he’ll remember five years from now. He’ll remember that 66 for a long time, but he’ll remember that 75, too. How it felt to have a big lead. And he’ll be a better player for all of it.
Doug Ergood of Mount Laurel, N.J., fresh off an appearance in the U.S. Junior Amateur at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan., finished sixth in the AJGA Philadelphia Junior at 4-over 214, coming on strong with a middle-round 69 and an even-par 70 in the final round.
Malvern Prep senior Matt Davis, our playing partner in the Christman Cup whose game I got to see up close, finished ninth at 219. Davis had a final-round 74 after a solid even-par 70 in the middle round.
Conor McGrath, another Huntingdon Valley member, snuck in with a top-10 finish at 220. McGrath, the medalist in qualifying in the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Junior Boys’ Championship, was only seven shots behind Isztwan after a pair of 71s in the first two rounds, but struggled in the final round with a 78.
McGrath was joined at 220 by Austin Barbin of Elkton, Md., who also had a final-round 74.
Davis’ Malvern Prep teammate, junior John Updike of Wayne, finished tied for 12th at 221. Updike had rounds of 72 and 73 after opening up with a 76.
Isztwan’s younger brother Patrick, who will be a freshman at Penn Charter this fall, finished tied for 34th with rounds of 76, 77 and 79 for a 232 total.
On the girls side, Kyra Cox of South Salem, N.Y. was a wire-to-wire winner with steady rounds of 70, 70 and 71 for a 1-over 211 on a Huntingdon Valley layout that measures 5,943 yards for the gals. It was the second AJGA victory for Cox.
It was seven shots back to runnerup Holly McCann of Raleigh, N.C., who had a final-round 73 for a 218 total.
Three local girls who were just back from the Girls Junior PGA Championship at The Country Club of St. Albans in St. Albans, Mo., notched top-five finishes in the AJGA Philadelphia Junior.
Phoebe Brinker of Wilmington, Del. and Tower Hill School, who finished tied for 26th at St. Albans, and Rylie Heflin of Avondale, who missed the cut in the Girls Junior PGA Championship by a shot, finished tied for third at Huntingdon Valley at 219.
Brinker had a solid final round of 1-over 71 while Heflin, who captured the Pennsylvania Junior Girls title earlier this summer, finished up with a 72.
Agnes Irwin senior Kaitlyn Lees, who finished tied for 49th at S. Albans, finished alone in fifth at 221. Lees finished up strong with a three-birdie, two-bogey 1-under 69. The two-time Inter-Ac League champion has taken her game up a notch this summer.
Katie Lee of Ringoes, N.J. was another shot behind Lees in sixth at 222 after a final-round 76. Esther Park of Wilmington was alone in seventh place at 223 after a final-round 77. Conestoga junior Samantha Yao, the PIAA Class AAA runnerup last fall, finished alone in 11th at 227, sandwiching a 3-over 73 in the middle round with a pair of 77s.