With his first Golf Association of Philadelphia victory behind him, Josh Ryan of Norristown is ready to move on to the bigger challenges that lie ahead.
Playing out of Lu Lu Country Club, the 13-year-old Ryan cruised to victory in GAP’s 69th Junior-Junior Championship, claiming a 2 and 1 victory over Ben Saggers of Applecross Country Club in Wednesday’s title match at Phoenixville Country Club.
Ryan began the week by claiming medalist honors with an even-par 35 over the challenging nine-hole track at Phoenixville Monday.
“Coming out here and winning a trophy is always a great thing,” Ryan told the GAP website. “This is my first GAP event, so it was nice to have shown up and played well this week.”
He was coming off a tie for fifth a week earlier in the U.S. Kids Teen World Championships at the Pinehurst Resort’s No. 5 Course in North Carolina. He finished third in the Drive, Chip & Putt contest as a 10-year-old in 2014, an event that has quickly evolved into the kickoff for Masters week at Augusta National each April.
And while this was a GAP event, Ryan and Saggers, among others who competed at Phoenixville, are familiar names to anyone who pays attention to the Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour. Ryan graduated to the 13-to-15 division this summer while the 12-year-old Saggers, who lives in West Chester, has been a frequent contender among the nine-holers.
There’s a lot of opportunities for youngsters to play in a tournament setting and many of them improve quickly once they get their feet wet.
The Junior-Junior matches were nine holes leading up to the final, but the championship was a scheduled 18-hole test with two trips around Phoenixville’s nine.
Saggers, a seventh-grader at Saints Philip and James School in Exton, got an early advantage when Ryan’s drive on the fifth hole ended up out of bounds. But the key holes for Ryan would prove to be the back-to-back par-3 sixth and seventh holes.
The tight Phoenixville layout took a little of Ryan’s distance advantage away, but he was able to utilize his length on the 183-yard sixth and the 205-yard seventh. He won both holes with pars to turn a 1-down deficit into a 1-up advantage.
Ryan increased his lead to 2-up with a par at the ninth, but made a couple of mistakes, resulting in a double bogey at the 10th and a bogey at the 11th and Saggers took advantage to win both holes and get the match back to all square.
The match came around again to six and seven and Ryan again won both holes to get back to 2-up with two holes to go. Ryan was able to get it up-and-down for a par on the par-5 17th hole to seal the victory.
Ryan reached the final with a hard-fought semifinal victory over Evan Barbin, a GAP Junior Players Club entry from Elkton, Md. on the 10th hole Tuesday afternoon. Ryan knocked off Kevin Lafond of Blue Bell Country Club, 4 and 3, in Tuesday morning’s quarterfinals.
After claiming the top seed with his even-par 35 Monday morning, Ryan opened match play Monday afternoon with a 5 and 3 victory over Bryan Sandheim of Skippack Golf Club in the round of 16.
Saggers reached the final with a 2 and 1 win over Henry Stone of Bidermann Golf Club in the other semifinal match.
Ryan is home-schooled through Commonwealth Connections Academy, but he will join older brother Caleb on the Norristown High golf team in a few weeks. Caleb, who teed it up in the Pennsylvania Amateur at White Manor Country Club this week, reached the PIAA Class AAA Championship at the Heritage Hills Resort in York County as a sophomore last fall.
Josh Ryan is hoping to achieve the same kind of success when he competes at the scholastic level this season.
“I’ve played in some big tournaments, but I’ve also got some goals,” Josh Ryan said. “I’ll be playing my freshman season at Norristown High School in August and I’d like to get through districts there.”
The first-flight championship in the Junior-Junior went to Matthew Homer of Wilmington Country Club, who defeated Eric Fryer of Talamore Country Club, 5 and 3, in the title match.
Homer had younger brother Jeffrey on the bag after defeating his younger brother on the 10th hole in the semifinals to advance to the final.