By John Dever, PGA of America
BRYAN, Texas – Elizabeth Wang of San Marino, California, needed an extra hole to win the Girls’ Division on Thursday, while Brad Dalke of Hobart, Oklahoma, emerged from a two-hole playoff to claim the Boys’ Division in the 40th Junior PGA Championship presented by Under Armour and Genesis Networks.
Wang and Mariel Galdiano (Pearl City, Hawaii) toggled back and forth, in and out of the leaderboard’s top spot, for much of the front nine. On the 12th hole, momentum appeared to swing in Galdiano’s direction. Her birdie coupled with a Wang bogey pumped Galdiano’s one-shot advantage to three.
That’s when Wang dropped out of match-play mode and decided to adjust her mood. “I just wanted to play well, maybe act a little happier,” she said. “I wasn’t too happy at the time.”
Wang indulged herself with back-to-back birdies on holes 14 and 15 to pull within a shot. Galdiano’s first double bogey of the Championship, which came at the 16th, gave Wang her first lead in 10 holes.
The drama at Miramont Country Club peaked on the 18th green, as both Wang (for par) and Galdiano (for birdie) lipped out putts that ultimately would have rendered wins in regulation. Instead, it was back to the 18th tee for the first playoff at the Junior PGA Championship since 2010.
Before the playoff began, during a 10-minute wait while the Boys’ Division finished its regulation round, Wang stepped away and “started crying because I was so close.” She had squandered an opportunity, but used the emotion of the moment to dispel and lingering focus on the negative. She then hit her third shot of the playoff to within two feet of the pin.
After Galdiano’s 15-foot, downhill birdie attempt slid by, Wang sunk hers to win the Girls’ Division, the Patty Berg Trophy and the title of Junior PGA Champion. Wang finished at 2-under par, 282.
The victory was equally dramatic for Dalke, who was making his fifth and final attempt to seize the Jack Nicklaus Trophy and playing in his final tournament as a junior golfer.
Dalke will join the golf team at the University of Oklahoma next month, but his history at this Championship was deep and riddled with strong play, and, until now, it was without coronation.
In his previous three Junior PGA appointments, Dalke had posted a pair of ties for third (2013, ’14) and a tie for fourth in 2012.
Even during the multiple near misses, Dalke had opened some eyes and he earned a spot on the victorious 2014 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team. Not all was lost.
On Thursday, he did not play well. Yet he won. He struggled, he came back to the pack, but he never gave up a share of the lead.
Was this a triumphant end to Dalke’s fantastic junior golf career or a lesson of perseverance? Both?
Maybe it was a simple lesson in the power of Dalke’s Junior PGA Championship-record 62 on Tuesday morning, and the buffer it provided.
Wilson Furr (Jackson, Mississippi) started the final round eight shots back, but a 4-under-par 67 put him in position, just in case things got interesting. And when Dalke doubled the ninth and finished bogey-bogey on 17 and 18, things started to get interesting.
“I saw everyone was coming back [to the pack], so I knew I had a chance,” said Furr.
Things nearly became really interesting, but Cole Hammer (Houston) and Kaiwen Liu (San Diego, California) narrowly missed par putts on No. 18. What could have been a four-player playoff was instead left to just Dalke and Furr to decide.
Furr reached the green in two and seemed to have the upper hand on first extra hole, the 18th, but a three-putt par gave Dalke life. He took advantage.
Again playing the 18th hole, Dalke’s second shot was blind and totaled 225 yards. He made solid contact and put the ball on the correct line. “I’ll remember that shot [which landed 12 feet above the hole] for the rest of my life,” Dalke promised.
Two putts for birdie provided Dalke with the fitting ending, the coronation, to this Championship.
“A win in a win,” said an emotional Dalke, who finished at 6-under 268. “It does not matter how many strokes. I wish [today] was easier, but I’ll take it.”
As Junior PGA Champions, Dalke and Wang also earned exemptions to compete in the 2016 Valero Texas Open (April 18-24, at TPC San Antonio) and the 2016 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic (April 18-24 at Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco), respectively.
This perk was never lost on Dalke, who “can’t wait” to tee it up in San Antonio.
“I haven’t played in a PGA Tour event and it’s been a goal of mine,” said Dalke. “Seeing last year’s [Junior PGA Championship] winner, Sam Burns, who is one of my best friends, play in two professional events, honestly, I’ve been jealous.”