Category - Amateur Programs
Team Utah, Team South Carolina Lead After Day One of 13u National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship
By Hayley Wilson
Cove Cummings and Ryder Huish of Team Utah.(Ryan Lochhead)
Team Utah (Lehi) and Team South Carolina (Spartanburg) climbed to the top of the leaderboard with remarkable 34-under-par performances on day one of the 13u National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship at PGA Frisco’s Fields Ranch West.
It is the first year the event has been held at the Home of the PGA of America, and the third year of its live broadcast across ESPN networks. In total, 12 All-Star teams totaling 96 junior golfers have descended upon the sprawling 660-acre PGA Frisco campus to vie for the title this weekend. Rounds one and two (Friday and Saturday) are played in a team aggregate, stroke play scramble, counting the top three of four pair scores per nine holes. Sunday’s Semifinals and Championship matches will be conducted in a match play format.
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Team Texas (Farmers Branch), Team Oklahoma (Broken Arrow), Team Illinois (Lemont) and Team California (San Jose) are locked in a four-way tie for third at 32-under-par.
Just minutes before the live ESPN broadcast was set to begin, Team Utah’s Jace Benson, 13, stepped up to the tee on hole No. 5 and aced it with a 50-degree wedge from 127 yards.
“I’m just really happy they were filming and it got on ESPN,” said Benson. “I had a hole-in-one two weeks ago and one in July, so I’ve had three now. I didn’t know immediately that it went in. Me and my partner Mack (Herzog) were watching it and it just disappeared and the cameraman put his hands up so we got excited.”
Team Utah captured the 2021 National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, where it was previously hosted for the past six years. PGA of America Golf Professional Tele Wightman has led his team to the national stage three times (2021-23).
“They all played beautifully; made some big putts, lots of shot making, it was really fun to watch,” said Wightman, PGA Director of Golf at Thanksgiving Point Golf Club in Lehi, Utah. “Each pairing had a little lull in their round where they could have gotten down on themselves, but each of them battled back and they really finished strong. It was fun to watch. We’re having a great time, they’ve put a lot of time, effort and preparation into this and now it’s time to trust what you’ve been doing, go and have fun and do it.”
The winning combination for Utah involves team chemistry, a nice balance of fun and hard work, plus a little star power, too.
Team Utah’s Jraice Finau is the 11-year-old son of six-time PGA TOUR winner Tony Finau, here as a supportive spectator and encouraging dad who is seen happily making frequent selfie and autograph stops for players. Jraice and his partner, 12-year-old Crue Harward, went 10-under for the day.
Team South Carolina, coached by PGA of America Golf Professional Chip Ridley, says his team is soaking up every moment of their experience at the Championship.
“My message at breakfast this morning was to make sure that five years from now, you remember the next three days,” said Ridley, PGA Head Professional at The Creek Golf Club in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “At the end of the day, no one remembers missing a putt here or there… what they remember is the overall experience. Seeing the smiles on their faces today is something I’ll never forget.”
South Carolina pair Addison Peeples and Jack Coleman, 12, made seven birdies in a row in their first nine-hole round. While it was a remarkable round, Coleman’s most memorable experience this week happened yesterday.
“Will Zalatoris is my favorite golfer, so being with him on the range is my favorite part,” said Coleman. During the Skills Challenge yesterday, a tradition that kicks off Championship week, title partner National Car Rental brought 2022 FedEx St. Jude Champion Zalatoris and popular golf content creator Roger Steele onsite to rotate through fun stations with the kids.
On the eve of the Red River Rivalry, PGA of America Coach Ridley likened the competition to a Big 12 matchup.
“This is the definition of a shootout… It’s like a Big 12 football game,” he said. “Just because you score one touchdown doesn’t mean when you get the ball back it won’t be tied up again. Looking at that board, seven teams at 31-under or more, that’s seven teams within three shots. It’s incredibly narrow, incredibly tight.”
Fittingly, Team Texas and Team Oklahoma were paired together in today’s rounds.
Coaching the Texas team is PGA of America Golf Professional Joey Anders, who remarked on the performance of teammates Lincoln Rubis, 11, and Chase Roman, 13, and their six consecutive birdies in the second round of nine holes.
“Lincoln and Chase played together and got us started,” said Anders, Brookhaven Country Club's PGA Lead Teaching Professional. “They birdied the first hole and they got going… Then they started making birdies. They turned at six-under and eagled the last hole. Chase made what had to be like a 90-foot putt to eagle No. 18 before they went to the front side, where they were six-under through six. They were off and running. Somewhere along the way, Brayden (Verret) and Wyatt (Brindza) came in and got hot also… Brayden and Wyatt shot 8-under on their back nine with an eagle on No. 6 to go 6-under through six.”
12-year-old Brayden Verret perfectly explained the beauty of PGA Jr. League: the ability to rely on your teammates.
“I think me hitting the driver straight today really freed up my partner to go at it from the front tees,” Verret said. “That really helped, putting us in good positions. We got to throw a lot of shots close with his ball. I showed him the line and he drained it on the second putt.”
With a focus on fun and an emphasis on teamwork, the weekend – and the competition – can only get better from here.
On the remainder of the leaderboard, Team Florida (Orlando) sits in seventh at 31-under-par; Team Minnesota (Blaine) in eighth at 26-under-par; Team Connecticut (Torrington) and Team Ohio (Dublin) are tied in ninth at 23-under-par; Team New York (Saratoga Springs) in 11th at 22-under-par; and Team Virginia (Dulles) in 12th at 21-under-par.
The top four teams following Saturday’s competition will advance to the Semifinals on Sunday morning for the right to play in the Championship Match on Sunday afternoon. The two teams that do not make the finals will compete for third place.