Category - Amateur Programs
With The Birdwell Brothers, PGA Jr. League Runs in the Family
By Mandy Crow
Max Birdwell returns to the 13u Championship this year.
Take a look at the list of National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship players over the past few years, and you’re going to notice a familiar last name.
In fact, the Birdwell brothers of Blaine, Minnesota, have made several appearances at the 13u Championship representing their home state over the past few years. The oldest, Jake, made the 2018 team, which garnered a memorable runner-up finish. Chase joined his older brother at the Championship in 2019 and '21. And Max, the youngest, age 10 at the time, got an unexpected chance to play alongside Chase at last year’s event.
“Max had missed making the All-Star team by a couple of shots in their stroke play qualifier,” recalls the boys’ dad, Rich Birdwell. “But he was at the 2022 Championship cheering on Chase and the team. Then one of the players got sick, and couldn’t continue.”
Max, who’d played the entire recreational season with the team, just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
“He took on the challenge, fought his nerves and played awesome,” says the boys’ mom, Mandy. “He even got some airtime on TV!”
This year, Max will be the only Birdwell brother participating in the 13u Championship at Fields Ranch West in Frisco, Texas. Jake, now 17, is in the middle of his senior year of high school and planning to play Division I golf at the University of Illinois next year.
Chase, now 14, will be representing Minnesota along with his teammates at the inaugural 17u Championship, set for Nov. 16-19 at Twin Warriors in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico. Jayden, the boys’ older sister who attends Grand Canyon University, in Phoenix, Arizona, has been a great cheerleader at all the national tournaments.
Golf from the beginning
Golf is clearly a way of life for the Birdwell family. Jake started playing in their yard with a plastic set of clubs before he was 2. Soon, he was at the range and on the course with his dad. Chase and Max followed suit soon after, each joining the PGA Jr. League program at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota, as they got older.
The program was then led by PGA Coach Jay Norman, who unexpectedly passed away in March 2019. Afterward, the players and families renamed the team in his honor — the J-Birds — and have continued to excel, now led by PGA Coach David Branstad.
“This is a very unique team,” Rich says. “The J-Birds have meant a lot to our family.”
National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship
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“PGA Jr. League is just such a great way for our boys to learn to play as a team,” she adds. “Over the years, our All-Star team has really gotten close. There’s just such great family and team bonding. It’s been a really awesome experience.”
While the boys often play in junior tournaments and enjoy the solo challenge of golf, they say the team approach of PGA Jr. League has its benefits.
“It’s really fun to play with a team,” Chase notes. “If you hit a bad shot, you can lean on your teammate and trust them to hit a good shot. When I’m playing on my own, I have to be careful not to run up a high score, but in PGA Jr. League, I can play aggressively because I have a teammate who can help me out.”
Jake, looking back at his PGA Jr. League experience, says it helped him develop more than a few skills needed to be a good teammate.
“PGA Jr. League helps it helps with communication with a teammate and allows you to develop skills on strategy,” he says.
The boys’ parents agree, for both on-course and away from it.
“We’ve seen their communication skills grow, and they’ve improved their ability to work as a teams,” Rich says. “It’s also really nice to see them more laidback on the golf course — when you have a teammate you can count on, it puts them more at ease, and they routinely play better.”
An ace to remember
The 13u Championship has yielded more than a few memorable moments for the Birdwell family. In 2021, Chase made a hole-in-one on Hole No. 8 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and ESPN caught the moment on camera.
“His friends at home were having a sleepover and were watching SportsCenter,” Mandy says. “They saw it on the Top 10 that night!”
Whatever the 13u Championship holds for him this year, Max is sure his experience will be memorable. While he can’t wait to take on a new course as the 13u in PGA Frisco's Fields Ranch West, Max is most excited to take part in the full Championship experience.
“I’m excited to get to hang out with my friends and play a new course,” he says, “but I’m really excited to get to play the whole tournament, play in the skills challenge and do all the fun things!”