Team Florida, Team Texas, Team Illinois and Team Utah Advance to Semifinals at National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship
By Hayley Wilson
Coach Jeff Beaver, PGA, high fives Ryan Nana Tanke of Team Florida.(Ryan Lochhead)
With day two coming to a close at PGA Frisco’s Fields Ranch West, the Sunday Semifinals have officially taken shape at the 13u National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship.
Headlining tomorrow’s match play Semifinals is No. 1 Team Florida of Orlando, with a staggering 36-hole aggregate team score of 66-under par. Rounding out the remaining spots are No. 2 Team Texas, the hometown heroes based out of the northern Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, at 65-under; No. 3 Team Illinois (Lemont) at 63-under; and No. 4 Team Utah (Lehi) at 62-under.
The No. 1 and No. 4 seeds and the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds will face off in the morning to determine who advances to the Championship round, with live coverage on ESPN2 beginning at 5 p.m. ET.
“They played fantastic the past two days,” said Team Florida Coach Cori McAuliffe, LPGA, of Marriott Golf Academy in Orlando. “They came in strong today. To move up from seventh to the No. 1 seed is pretty impressive, and I still think we left a few out there today. Tomorrow is match play, so getting off to a quick start is critically important.”
Team Florida, who will face Team Utah in the Semifinals, spent the day rapidly ascending the leaderboard. Their performance was highlighted by brothers Chris and Ryan Nana Tanke, 10 and 13, who went a combined 14-under today.
“It’s really fun being with our teammates,” said Ryan. “We feel good. You need to get off to a fast start. It’s not playing your own ball against a whole field, It’s playing against your opponent and trying to win every hole.”
It’s not lost on Team Texas Coach Joey Anders, PGA, how exciting it is for his team to nab the No. 2 seed and make it to the Semifinals.
“It’s more special,” said Anders, Brookhaven Country Club Lead Teaching Professional. “It would be special no matter what, but in front of people from our club, our managers, our friends, our family in Texas. It’s a big advantage, number one, but much more exciting for all of us.”
Beckett McLaughlin, 11, and Bryar Murphy, 12, who lit up the broadcast with their clutch putts and hat tips, finished 12-under par.
“I feel amazing,” said McLaughlin. “We were playing really good today. We made a lot of putts, unlike yesterday. Yesterday, we hit the ball really good, we just couldn’t make a putt.”
Team Illinois, led by 2023 PGA of America Teacher & Coach of the Year Kevin Weeks, PGA, cites his team’s resiliency when asked what stood out the most about their performance today.
“They struggled the first few holes on this nine, and all of a sudden they put it in gear,” said Weeks, the PGA of America Director of Instruction at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club. “They really finished strong. We had one group birdie the last four. Another group finished birdie-eagle and just hit solid golf shots.”
Illinois pairing William Cui and Grayson Baucom, both 13, spoke to the power of the team dynamic, which contributed to their 13-under-par day.
“It’s just really awesome because we’re both really good putters, so we give each other great lines no matter who goes first or second,” said Baucom. “He bombs the ball, and I have a pretty good short game, so our games match up perfectly for each other.”
2021 Champion Team Utah battled hard to secure the last Semifinal spot. Yesterday’s performance was highlighted by Jace Benson, 13, who aced hole No. 5 with a 50-degree wedge from 127 yards and came in at No. 3 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
“You’re looking at the scoreboard, and it looked like we were in a battle with South Carolina and Oklahoma,” said Coach Tele Wightman, who serves as the PGA Director of Golf at Thanksgiving Point Golf Club in Lehi, Utah. “Jace Benson holed out for eagle on 17 from the bunker. Crue Harward made a 40-footer for par on 17. Jace and Mac [Herzog] making a big birdie on the last hole. Jraice [Finau] and Crue making eagle on 18 was huge.
For Harward and his teammates, it’s staying clear-headed and taking things one putt at a time.
“Honestly, nothing,” said Harward, 12, of what was going through his mind during his clutch par putt. “I was just trying to get to the next hole because we had 40 feet for par. I just wanted to get to the next hole to make birdie. I felt really good because it felt like it kept us in the running to play in match play.”
"That’s how razor thin it was, neck and neck. We knew it was going to be close. We came up with some big shots at the end to get us in there."
Tele Wightman, PGA
PGA Tour superstar Tony Finau has been in the crowd all week with his family, but his role here is as a supportive parent.
“I think they [the team] just know that I’m a big supporter of theirs, so hopefully it helps give them some inspiration to know that I’m cheering them on,” said Jraice’s dad.
Of his experience here at the new PGA Frisco campus, he likens it to a “golfer’s paradise.”
“It’s a really cool spot,” said Finau. “You got a par-3 course, a huge putting green, a great chipping area and then two championship 18-hole golf courses. It’s pretty hard to beat. If you’re a golfer, this is going to be on your bucket list. Like some of the great courses throughout the world, this will be, when it’s all said and done, a place that everybody wants to check off their bucket list for sure.”
The match play Semifinals with the top four seeds begin tomorrow (Sunday) at 8 a.m. CT to determine who will play in the Championship match beginning at 2:20 p.m. CT. The two teams that do not advance will play in the third place match.
The eight teams not competing in the Semifinals can participate in the Fields Ranch Roundup, a 9-hole, two-person scramble. Team South Carolina (Spartanburg) in fifth at 58-under; Team Oklahoma (Broken Arrow) in sixth at 58-under; Team California (San Jose) in seventh at 56-under; Team Virginia (Dulles) in eighth at 47-under; Team Minnesota (Blaine) in ninth at 45-under; Team Ohio (Dublin) in 10th at 43-under; Team Connecticut (Torrington) in 11th at 40-under; and Team New York (Saratoga Springs) in 12th at 37-under.