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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hickey, Beek head list of Junior Tour year-end award winners

   A lot of good players can put together a good round or two. But the true test of a really good golfer is consistency over the long haul. The stats that the professional tours put out bear that out, even some of the more abstract sabermetric stuff that they keep track of.
   When the Philadelphia Section PGA got together for its end-of-the-year Junior Tour Awards Dinner Dec. 2 at Talamore Country Club, the players who captured Graham Company Player of the Year honors and Sam Penecale Scoring Average titles were the ones who played at a high level nearly every time he or she teed it up.
   The Graham Company is the title sponsor of the Junior Tour, which is doing a tremendous job developing junior golfers in this region. The Scoring Average titles are named in memory of Sam Penecale, the former head pro at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club who, like so many of his fellow Philly Section club pros over the years, made junior golf a priority.
   In the two girls divisions, the identity of the Graham Company Player of the Year and the Sam Penecale Scoring Average Leader were the same person.
   In the 16-to-18 division, that was Grace Hickey of Downingtown. Hickey played 17 rounds in 15 events and had a scoring average of 88.5. She won six times, had 11 birdies and had a low round of 84.
   That 84 gave her a tie for first in the Junior Tour stop at Wilmington Country Club. Other highlights of Hickey’s season included a win at Chesapeake Bay Golf Club with an 88, a victory at Wyncote Golf Club with an 86 and a win at Bluestone Country Club with an 85. Hickey saved her best stuff for some of the toughest courses the Junior Tour played.
   For the second straight year, the 13-to-15 Graham Company Player of the Year belonged to Elizabeth Beek of Blue Bell, who added the Sam Penecale Scoring Average Leader title this season.
Beek, a seventh-grader at Wissahickon Middle School, played in 12 events and averaged 79.55 in 12 rounds. Averaging less than 80 is pretty impressive at her age. She won 11 of the 12 events she played and had 12 birdies and an eagle.
   Beek came out of the gate last March with back-to-back victories, firing a 76 at Sea Oaks Golf Club and a 77 at Frog Hollow Golf Club. She won at Pine Meadows Golf Club with a 73 and captured the Junior Tour Championship with a 73 at Commonwealth National Golf Club.
   I couldn’t hang around to see the actual story, but a recent episode of “Inside Golf” on NBC Sports Philadelphia teased its teaching segment from Talamore head pro Lou Guzzi and mentioned that Beek is one of his star students.
   The boys 16-to-18 Graham Company Player of the Year award went to Alec Ryden of Moorestown, N.J. Ryden had seven wins in 27 starts that included 31 rounds. He had a low round of 68, one of two Junior Tour rounds he had in the 60s, and piled up 61 birdies.
   Ryden carded the 68 in a victory at Chisel Creek Golf Club. He won at Morgan Hill Golf Course with a 75, triumphed at Scotland Run Golf Course with a 71, and took top honors in a Precision Pro Golf Open event at Philmont Country Club with rounds of 69 and 76 for a 145 total.
   The Sam Penecale Scoring Average Leader among the older guys was Caleb Ryan of Norristown. Ryan, who is home-schooled through Commonwealth Connections Academy and plays high school golf for Norristown High, played 24 rounds in 18 Junior Tour events with a scoring average of 74.16.
   It is quite an accomplishment among a very deep and talented group of older guys who tee it up in the Junior Tour events. Ryan won six times, had 71 birdies and played the par-5s in 13-under par.
   Ryan fired a 69 for a victory at Bellamor Golf Club, a 73 in a win at Chesapeake Bay, a 71 to take top honors at Bluestone, and was the runnerup in the Junior Tour Championship at Commonwealth National with a 69.
   Ryan’s solid play on the Junior Tour set the stage for another strong fall of scholastic golf as he reached the PIAA Class AAA Championship as a junior for the second straight year, finishing in a tie for 19th at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort. He finished fourth against many of his Junior Tour rivals in the District One Class AAA Championship at Turtle Creek Golf Club.
   The boys 13-to-15 Graham Company Player of the Year was Dylan Gooneratne, a District One qualifier as a freshman for Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
   Gooneratne teed it up in 28 Junior Tour events, completing 32 rounds, and won six times. He had a low round of 70 and had 36 birdies, averaging 1.12 birdies per round.
   The 70 came in a win at Pennsauken Country Club. He claimed a victory at Chesapeake Bay with a 74, topped the field with a 72 at Paxon Hollow Country Club and was a winner in the Junior Tour Championship at Commonwealth National with a 73.
   The Sam Penecale Scoring Average Leader among the 13-to-15 boys was Stephen Lorenzo of Lower Gwynedd, who, I’m pretty sure, is a La Salle High guy.
   Lorenzo played in 14 events, completing 19 rounds, with an outstanding scoring average of 76.0. He had two wins and made 30 birdies with a low round of 71.
   Lorenzo was particularly tough in a couple of the two-day Precision Pro Golf Open events, finishing second at Hickory Valley Golf Club with rounds of 75 and 73 for a 148 total and also claiming runnerup honors at Makefield Highlands Golf Club with a pair of 73s for a 146 total. His 71 came in a victory at Wyncote Golf Club and he had a 75 in a runnerup finish at Bluestone.
   The Graham Company Player of the Year among the nine-holers was Benjamin Saggers, a seventh-grader at the Saints Philip and James School from West Chester. Saggers was the winner in half of the 30 events he teed it up in, claiming 15 victories. He completed 33 rounds, with a low round of 35. Saggers had 13 birdies and an eagle.
   Among his victories were one at Morgan Hill with a 38, one at Bear Trap Dunes with a 35, one at Downingtown Country Club with a 39 and one at Skippack Golf Course with a 38.
   Saggers, representing Applecross Country Club, was also the runnerup to Joshua Ryan, younger brother of Caleb, in the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Junior-Junior Championship at Phoenixville Country Club.
   The Sam Penecale Scoring Average Leader among the nine-holers was Matthew Normand of Lamberton, N.J. Normand had an average of 40.64 while teeing it up in 11 events and completing 12 rounds. He won five times, recorded six birdies and had a low round of 39.
   Normand had a 39 in a victory at Ballamor, he won at Frog Hollow with a 40, finished first with a 40 at Bala Golf Club and was the runnerup in the Junior PGA Championship at Penn Oaks Golf Club with nines of 39 and 41 for an 80.
   The Junior Tour also handed out college scholarships, which were earned in conjunction with last summer’s Harry Hammond Invitational, held at Penn Oaks, where Hammond is the Director of Golf. Hammond, a PGA Master Professional, has been a force in promoting junior golf in the Philadelphia Section, including a 29-year stint as the Section’s Junior Golf Chairman.
   Players who teed it up at Penn Oaks submitted essays and the scholarship winners were announced at the Junior Tour Awards Dinner.
   Topping the list among the boys was Connor Bennink, a junior at Unionville who received a $750 scholarship. Bennink had himself quite a week in the PIAA Championships at Heritage Hills this fall. After finishing tied for fourth in the individual Class AAA competition, Bennink helped Ches-Mont League and District One champion Unionville capture the PIAA Class AAA team crown.
   Drew Steinmetz of Gilbertsville, a junior at The Hill School, and Simon Asadoorian of Richboro, a District One qualifier as a senior at Council Rock South this fall, were each awarded a $375 scholarship.
   Among the girls, Savanna Haas of Pottstown received a $750 scholarship, Georgia Naples of West Chester received a $500 scholarship and Jessica McClellan of Freeland and Amanda Jones of Newtown Square, a sophomore on the Episcopal Academy golf team, each received a $125 scholarship.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Matthews earns some status on Web.com Tour with tie for 42nd in Final Stage of Q-School

   Former Temple great Brandon Matthews continued his slow, but steady march toward the PGA Tour this weekend by finishing tied for 42nd in the Final Stage of the Web.com Qualifying School, held at Whirlwind Golf Club’s Devil’s Claw and Cattail Courses in Chandler, Ariz.
   The 23-year-old Matthews, who captured the 2010 PIAA Championship as a junior at Pittston, struggled a little in Sunday’s final round, a 1-under 71 at the 7,334-yard, par-72 Cattail Course that played tougher all week. That gave him a 72-hole total of 14-under 274.
   The Web-com Final Stage isn’t quite the all-or-nothing deal that the old PGA Tour Q-School once was. The winner, former Georgia standout Lee McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is the only player guaranteed full-time status all next year on the Web.com Tour.
   The rest of the top 10 has full-time status until the third reshuffle while those finishing between 11th and 45th – and ties – have full-time status until the second reshuffle. The rest of the 144-man field at Whirlwind has conditional status on the Web.com Tour in 2018. OK, so now you’re wondering what in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a reshuffle.
   All it means is play good or you get shuffled back in the preference order when it comes time to fill fields. It happens on the PGA Tour as well. The third reshuffle comes after the 12th event and the second reshuffle comes after the eighth event. And if you’re not playing well, you can get reshuffled right out of the picture.
   So, Matthews isn’t guaranteed much. Still, he’s got better standing than he did this time last year. Matthews, probably the best player in the history of the Temple program, had no status as 2017 dawned.
   He earned a spot on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in a Q-School for that circuit in Mexico in January and promptly went out and got a win when he captured the Molina Canuelas Championship at Canuelas Golf Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
   Had he finished in the top five in the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Order of Merit, I’m pretty sure he would have been able to skip the Web.com Q-School. He earned $31,500 for the win in Argentina, but added only another $19 grand or so and finished 13th in the Order of Merit. I was hearing rumors of some back issues hampering his play a little at some point this fall.
   Still, I’m pretty sure that standing on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica was good enough to get him a spot in the field at Whirlwind.
   Matthews made a big move with a 7-under 65 in Saturday’s third round at the 7,029-yard, par-72 Devil’s Claw Course. He ripped off four straight birdies on the front nine from the fifth through the eighth holes and added birdies at 14, 15 and 17 with nary a bogey on the card.
   He got off to a rough start in Sunday’s final round with a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 second hole. He got a couple of shots back with birdies at the third and fifth holes, but then made a bogey at the seventh, again a par-5, before making a birdie at the ninth. Matthews got the par-5s on the back nine at the Cattail Course, making birdies at 12 and 17, to get the round back under par and get into that top 45.
   As impressive as the 65 was Saturday at Devil’s Claw, Matthews’ 4-under 68 at the Cattail Course in Friday’s second round might have been even more vital. It was solid golf with a pair of birdies, an eagle at the par-5 17th and no bogeys on the tougher of the two tracks.
   Matthews beat this area’s best players, pro and amateur, to win the Philadelphia Open in 2013 at Waynesborough Country Club and in 2015 at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course before he turned pro.
   He has always seemed to have the kind of game and, maybe more importantly, the kind of temperament, to make it to the big leagues of pro golf, the PGA Tour. He’s on the right path.
   McCoy found himself in a mano-a-mano struggle with 19-year-old South Korean Sung-jae Im for medalist honors in Sunday’s final round after Im torched Devil’s Claw with a spectacular 12-under 60 in Saturday’s third round.
   McCoy, whose progress through Q-School a year ago was halted by a wrist injury suffered in a car accident, outdueled Im with a7-under 65 at the Cattail Course to Im’s 5-under 67 in Sunday’s final round.
   McCoy, who wasn’t too shabby himself in Saturday’s third round with a 9-under 63 at Devil’s Claw, ended up with a 28-under 260 total. Im finished two shots behind him in second at 26-under 262. You think these guys can play a little? And these are the guys, like Matthews, who are just trying to get to the PGA Tour.
   Curtis Luck, the 21-year-old Australian who was the impressive winner of the 2016 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., finished tied for third with 35-year-old Mark Blakefield at 22-under 266.
   Luck surged into contention with an 8-under 64 in Friday’s second round at Devil’s Claw and finished up with a 5-under 67 Sunday at the Cattail Course. Blakefield, a standout at Kentucky more than a decade ago, had a final round of 6-under 66 at the Cattail Course Sunday.
   Two of the biggest names in college golf the last few years, former Stanford standout Maverick McNealy and former LSU star Sam Burns, finished in a group tied for 10th at 18-under 270.
   McNealy, who held off on the start of his pro career so he could help the U.S. team win the Walker Cup over Great Britain & Ireland in September at Los Angeles Country Club, came on strong after a slow start with an 8-under 64 in Saturday’s third round at Devil’s Claw and a final round of 5-under 67 at the Cattail Course Sunday.
   Burns turned pro after being left off a loaded U.S. Walker Cup team, a snub that resulted in some harsh criticism directed at the USGA by many of Burns’ supporters. Burns was solid all week at Whirlwind, opening with a 68 at Devil’s Claw, adding a 68 at Cattail, firing a 66 at Devil’s Claw and finishing up with a 68 at Cattail Sunday.
   Sensing he might need to pick it up a little, Burns made birdies at 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 before finishing up with just a par on the 18th Sunday.
   One of McNealy’s teammates on the U.S. Walker Cup team, bomber Cameron Champ of Sacramento, Calif., finished in the group tied for 16th at 17-under 271.
   Champ played the fall portion of his senior season at Texas A&M before turning pro. Making the cut at last summer’s U.S. Open earned him a pass into Stage II of Web.com Q-School and he advanced to Whirlwind and made the most of the opportunity. Champ finished up with a 3-under 69 at the Cattail Course.
   Wyndham Clark, the Pac-12 champion as a senior at Oregon last spring, finished in the group tied for 23rd at 16-under 272. Clark, a native of Denver, played at Oklahoma State before transferring to Oregon and helped the Ducks reach the final of the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms before they fell to Oklahoma.
   Clark matched par with a 72 in his final round at the Cattail Course.
   Then there’s former Virginia standout Jimmy Stanger, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion as a senior last spring.
   The guy can really play, but opened up with a disastrous 80 at the Cattail Course Thursday. Followed it up with a 10-under 62 at Devil’s Claw Friday, improved by 11 shots at the Cattail Course with a 3-under 69 Saturday and then ripped off an 8-under 64 at Devil’s Claw Sunday.
   It wasn’t quite good enough to make the top 45 as he finished tied for 57th at 13-under 275.    Obviously, if something goes a little right at Cattail Thursday instead of absolutely nothing going his way, he makes the top 45.
   Don’t worry about Stanger, though. He’ll get there.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rolling Green alumni make the cut at LPGA Q-School's Final Stage

   While looking over the results of Stage III of the LPGA Qualifying School – the Final Stage – which concluded with no shortage of drama Sunday at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., I couldn’t help but travel back to the first week of August in 2016 and look at the results of qualifying for match play for the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club.
   The results of USGA events sometimes disappear from the Internet, but the whole week from Rolling Green was still there and there were three names all bunched together in a tie for ninth at 3-under 139 after two rounds around the William Flynn gem in Springfield, Delaware County who were a big part of the story at LPGA International: Tiffany Chan of Hong Kong, Robynn Ree of Redondo Beach, Calif. and Maria Torres of Puerto Rico.
   They are three more alumni from that week at Rolling Green who are moving on to the LPGA Tour, three stories out of the 20 who earned full-time status in the big leagues of women’s golf for 2018.
The 24-year-old Chan was the runnerup to Q-School Final Stage medalist Nasa Hataoka of Japan – she was there, too, at Rolling Green, more on that later – with a final round of 3-under 69 at 6,566-yard, par-72 Hills Course that left her with an 11-under 349 total, just a shot behind the 18-year-old Hataoka in the grueling 90-hole marathon.
    A lot of schedules were rearranged in the summer of 2016 as players from around the world wanted to join the party in Rio de Janiero for the return of golf to the Summer Olympics after a century-long absence. And even though she missed the Opening Ceremony, Chan made sure she fit both the Women’s Amateur and the Olympic Games into her schedule.
   Chan lost in the first round of match play at Rolling Green in 21 holes to Gabrielle Shipley and immediately headed for Brazil. She was one of just three amateurs in the field in Rio, joining Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela, Nos. 1 and 4, respectively, in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
   Chan had just completed her junior year at Southern California in the summer of 2016 after two years of junior college golf at Daytona State College. That played out in her favor last week as the Jones and Hills course where the Q-School Final Stage was played were her home courses those two years at Daytona State.
   Chan teamed with Ree to help the Trojans reach the semifinals of the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms last spring before coming up just short of a trip to the final at the hands of Northwestern.
   She played on the Symetra Tour last summer, but not well enough to finish among the top 10 who earned promotion to the LPGA Tour. By the way, Golfweek published capsule roundups of each of the 20 Q-School graduates. There is so much more to each of their journeys, but it is an interesting look at the many roads that lead to the LPGA Tour.
   The 20-year-old Ree, the second-youngest Q-School graduate after Hataoka, was mentally prepared to return to Southern Cal for the second half of her junior season. But then she fired a 6-under 66 at the 6,449-yard, par-72 Jones Course in Saturday’s fourth round to surge into contention.
   She finished up with a 2-under 70 to end up tied for fifth at 7-under 353. Ree had a decision to make: Turn pro or leave behind a golden opportunity for a shot at the LPGA Tour. Sure, maybe this was a little ahead of schedule, but Ree has always been talented. She grabbed the brass ring.
   Ree said she’d continue to take classes at Southern Cal, but she’ll have to work around the LPGA schedule. It’s been done before. It will be interesting to see how Ree handles the situation. It’s a tough loss for the Trojans, but everybody at a top-level program like Southern Cal understands that the LPGA Tour is the ultimate goal for a lot of the players they recruit.
   Perhaps the biggest feel-good story of Q-School belonged to the 22-year-old Torres, who was a key member of a Florida team that won the Southeast Conference title and a share of the team title at the NCAA Columbus Regional before reaching match play at Rich Harvest Farms. 
   Torres had to hustle around her native Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria to find an Internet connection so she could make the payment to get her into Stage II of Q-School. Like Ree, she kept her option open to retain her amateur status if she didn’t earn an LPGA Tour card.
   Torres struggled a little in the final round Sunday, carding a 2-over 74 that left her in a three-way tie for 20th with Daniela Darquea, a former Miami standout from Ecuador, and Mind Muangkhumsakul, an 18-year-old from Thailand.
   The three played a three-hole aggregate playoff and a birdie on the second hole gave Torres the edge and a full-time gig on the LPGA Tour in 2018. Players finishing 21st through 45th earn conditional status on the LPGA Tour.
   Torres’ effort to become the first Puerto Rican woman to earn an LPGA Tour card even caught the attention of the New York Times in a time when golf, let alone women’s golf, rarely makes the cut in most newspapers. And the way it ended for Torres, well you’d have to think it was meant to be. Her island needs all the hope it can get right now and Torres’ story will certainly offer that.
   Just a shot below Chan, Ree and Torres in qualifying at Rolling Green two summers ago, in a tie for 12th at 2-under 140, was Hataoka, then a 17-year-old. By the way, also in that group at Rolling Green was the eventual winner, Eun Jeong Seong, a then 16-year-old South Korean. It seems it’s just a matter of time before Seong takes her prodigious talent to the LPGA Tour.
   Hataoka advanced out of Q-School a year ago, but struggled in her rookie season. Still, her talent at Rolling Green was obvious. It showed again last week as she rattled off five sub-par rounds, capped by a 1-under 71 at the Hills Course that gave her a 12-under 348 total and the $5,000 winner’s check. I have a feeling her Q-School days are over.
   Another of the interesting stories of Q-School week was that of 27-year-old South African Paula Reto, a freshman on Purdue’s 2010 NCAA championship team. Reto has banked more than $500K in four years on the LPGA Tour, but a still undiagnosed health issue hampered her in 2017.
   Reto gutted it out at LPGA International, finishing up with a 1-under 71 to end up alone in third place, two shots behind Chan at 9-under 351.
   Give credit to the players who saved their best for last, moving into the top 20 on the strength of a solid final round at the Hills Course.
   Heading that list was 23-year-old Kassidy Teare, a former Long Beach State standout from San Diego. Teare fired a final round of 6-under 66 to finish tied for 10th at 5-under 355.
   Gemma Dryburgh, a 24-year-old from Scotland who played college golf at Tulane, had a 4-under 68 to get into a tie for 13th at 4-under 356.
   Brianna Do, a 27-year-old native of Vietnam who played at UCLA, also had a final-round 68 to get into the group tied for 16th at 3-under 357, a shot clear of that three-way playoff for 20th that Torres had to endure.
   Also at 3-under was Celine Herbin, a 35-year-old from France who didn’t turn pro until she was 30. Herbin fired a final round of 3-under 69. A little Google work revealed that Herbin played a year of college golf at Bucknell, of all places, as a French exchange student in 2003-’04.
   Daniela Holmqvist, a 29-year-old from Sweden, dropped a clutch putt on the 90th hole for a 2-under 70 that kept her out of the playoff for 20th.
   And Jessy Tang, a 28-year-old from Orlando, Fla., rounded out the foursome at 3-under 357 after a final round of 2-under 70. Tang, who has been a regular on the Symetra Tour since 2009, was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2017 and didn’t make a cut in eight starts. She’s about to get another shot at it.
   I did a post last month on the three Rolling Green Women’s Am alumni who finished among the top 10 in the Symetra Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card, Hannah Green, Celine Boutier and Katelyn Dambaugh. Add four more from Q-School and you start to understand the kind of talent that was on display in Delco just 16 months ago.