LIMERICK – Used to be a District One golfer could go around Turtle Creek Golf Club with something in the mid-70s, maybe even in the high 70s, and make it back for Day 2. It appears those days are gone.
With all the junior golf events available in the summer, whether it’s the Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s junior schedule, the Pennsylvania Junior Championships, American Junior Golf Association and International Junior Golf Tour events, there have never been more chances for junior golfers to play competitive golf in the summer.
They are taking advantage of those opportunities and it was never more evident than the District One Class AAA leaderboard after Day 1 of competition on a summer-like Tuesday at the Turtle.
Central Bucks East bomber Patrick Sheehan shared the top spot with Holy Ghost Prep’s Liam Hart and Neshaminy’s Greg Deluca, all three posting a 3-under 69 over the 6,375-yard, par-72 Turtle Creek layout.
Radnor junior David Colleran, coming back to the Turtle a week after claiming a share of the Central League title, had six birdies in a 2-under 70 and is tied for fourth with William Tennent’s Colin Walsh and Central Bucks South’s Kevin Anthony.
Defending District One champion Ben Pochet of Spring-Ford is still very much in the hunt for a second straight title as he headed a group of four players tied for seventh at 1-under 71 that included Strath Haven’s Ben Newlon, Souderton’s Thomas Butler and Council Rock South’s Matt Fleming.
Maybe the most remarkable number of all was the cut line. The top 30 and ties advanced to Wednesday’s second round and it fell at 3-over 75. Some pretty good players shot 4-over and higher Tuesday, but won’t be making the trip back to upper Montgomery County for Round 2.
The ultimate goal is to get through to Monday’s East Regional at Golden Oaks Golf Club, but Tuesday’s opening round certainly set up a potential shootout for the district crown in Wednesday’s final round.
They were playing lift, clean and place in the wake of Monday’s rain that pushed the start of the tournament back a day, but that doesn’t change the reality that these kids can really play.
Typical of some of the fireworks in Tuesday’s opening round came out of the first group that went off the first tee in the shotgun start, which included Sheehan, Colleran, Pochet and Unionville’s Nick Gianelos.
Sheehan really went off on the front nine at the Turtle. After making birdies at the second and fourth holes, Sheehan blasted his drive to within 40 yards at the 349-yard, par-4 seventh hole. His 60-degree wedge found the hole for an eagle.
“I wasn’t set on going for eight (a 516-yard par-5) in two, but I hit a great drive and I only had 150 (yards) left,” said Sheehan, a member at Talamore Country Club, where he works on his game with Lou Guzzi, the head of instruction. “I had a good look at eagle from 35 feet, but just missed it.
“Same thing at nine (a 191-yard par-3). I wasn’t necessarily trying to hit it close because it’s a tricky hole with the water on the left, but I hit a great shot. I had 15 feet for birdie and just missed it. 30 would have been nice.”
He had to settle for a 5-under 31 on the front at the Turtle before cooling with two bogeys on the back for 38 and a 3-under 69.
Colleran, the 2016 GAP Junior Boys’ champion, double-bogeyed the first hole, but then birdied two, four and seven to get back to 1-under. He kept attacking, trying to reach the par-5 eighth in two from 215 yards away, but yanked it in the water for another double bogey. No problem. He birdied the tough ninth to complete an adventurous even-par 36 tour of the front at the Turtle.
“I came in here thinking I wanted to play pretty aggressive,” said Colleran, who matched par with a 72 to get a share of the Central title last week. “(Sheehan) was playing pretty well, so I guess I was trying to keep up with him a little.
“You want to get through to regionals, but I’ll probably try to be aggressive again (Wednesday). Maybe not go for eight in two, but I’ll probably have pretty much the same plan.”
Colleran made birdies at 10 and 13 for a solid 2-under 34 on the back for a 2-under 70 that left him just a shot behind the three co-leaders.
Pochet, winner of GAP’s Christman Cup at Stonewall’s North Course and a qualifier for the U.S. Junior Amateur at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan. this summer, opened defense of his title with a solid 1-under 71.
“Three people under 70, that’s impressive,” said Pochet, who is headed for Drexel. “We’ll see how it goes (Wednesday). You want to get to regionals, so early in the round, you want to make sure you’re keeping that in mind. If I have a shot by the time I get to eight, I might get a little more aggressive, depending on how the course is playing.”
Gianelos, who fired a spectacular 7-under 65 at Tavistock Country Club to claim medalist honors in qualifying for the 2016 GAP Junior Boys that Colleran ultimately won, shot 2-over 74 and was the high man in the foursome.
I watched Norristown’s Caleb Ryan play his last six holes, Nos. 5 through 10, during which he had some good looks at birdie, but couldn’t get anything to drop. Still, he had a solid even-par 72, which left him in a group of four players tied for 12th that included Greg Hiriak of Pope John Paul II, Ward McHenry of Owen J. Roberts and Conestoga’s Ryan Tall.
Ryan, who is home-schooled through Commonwealth Connections Academy, but represents Norristown High on the golf course, came into the district tournament playing well with victories two weekends ago in the Helen Sigel Wilson Invitational at Philadelphia Country Club and last weekend in a Junior Tour stop at Heidelberg Country Club.
Ryan, who reached the PIAA Championship as a sophomore a year ago, is well aware of the level of competition he’s going up against at the Turtle.
“I’ve been playing well,” Ryan said. “And I hit just about everything well today. I hit 10 fairways, 15 greens (in regulation), had 31 putts, but no three-putts. They’re all good players here. We see each other all summer and we’ll all battle it out (Wednesday).”
Ryan’s younger brother Joshua, a freshman, is another shot behind him in a group of five players tied for 16th at 1-over 73 that includes Connor Bennink of Unionville, Nate Pierce of Spring-Ford, Andrew Wallace of Harriton and Hayden Moffat of Hatboro-Horsham.
The Class AAA boys competition was just part of a whole lot of District One goings-on in upper Montgomery County Tuesday.
Ryan McCabe of Media and Devon Prep grabbed a one-shot lead in the Class AA boys competition with a 2-over 74. Ben Wiseman of New Hope carded a 3-over 75 to stay right on McCabe’s heels.
McCabe’s Devon Prep teammate, Bryan Donato, is another three shots behind Wiseman in third at 78.
At Gilbertsville Golf Club a few miles up Swamp Pike, the girls got into action and two team champions were crowned.
Conestoga junior Samantha Yao, the defending district champion, fired a 74 over the Red and White nines (which played to 5,119 yards and to a par of 71 the last time I checked, but I didn’t venture up to Gilbertsville Tuesday) to take a one-shot lead.
Sophia Mancuso of Central Bucks East carded a 75 to trail Yao, the PIAA Class AAA runnerup a year ago, by one. Liddie McCook of Downingtown East and Lizzie Palmieri of Central Bucks South were another shot behind Mancuso in a tie for third at 76.
April Xu of Council Rock Southern and Cristea Park of Wissahickon are tied for fifth at 79 and the quartet of Great Valley’s Liv Juliana, Haverford’s Riley Quatermain, a product of the junior program at Llanerch Country Club, Downingtown West’s Grace Hickey and Mount St. Joseph’s Clare Gimpel are tied for seventh at 80.
Gimpel led the Mount, a perennial District One power, to the team title with a 248 total. It looks like only the top three scores were counted and, in addition to Gimpel’s 80, Mount St. Joseph also got an 81 from Olivia Wirsching and an 87 from Brianna Mahon.
Villa Joseph Marie, like Mount St. Joseph a Catholic Academies Conference representative, dominated the Class AA girls competition.
Kristina Mueller grabbed the individual lead with a 94. Carolyn Mueller (pretty good chance she’s Kristina’s sister) is three back in second with a 97. Villa Maria Academy’s Brooke Sander is in third place after posting a 98.
Elizabeth Rafferty was the final counter for Villa Joseph Marie in the team competition and she is fourth at 99. Villa Joseph Marie was basically unopposed for the team title, but the rounds by the Muellers and Rafferty gave it a 290 total.
The individual girls competition will wrap up at Turtle Creek Wednesday. In addition to crowning individual boys champions in Class AAA and AA, the boys team championships will also be decided Wednesday at the Turltle.