The sixth annual Alaska Junior Open golf tournament had a different feel this year. For the first time ever, it was hosted on the Kenai Peninsula.
The event, which began in 2009 and pits golfers ages 18 and under against each other, has traditionally been held in Anchorage, where many of the state’s top golfers live. However, with the growing population of Kenai Peninsula golf enthusiasts, the need for a tournament like the Open had been growing, which led to the Birch Ridge Golf Course being given the honor of hosting the 2014 Junior Open.
Kevin Koshimizu, president of the Alaska Junior Golf Association, oversaw the tournament that started Monday and ended Tuesday, along with Birch Ridge superintendent Bill Engberg and general manager Nolan Rose. Koshimizu said it was only a matter of time before the communities of Kenai and Soldotna played host to a two-day major.
“It’s been a huge success,” Koshimizu said. “The course is in great shape, Birch Ridge did a great job and they treat it like a true stroke-play tournament, they cut the greens really short, they made the fairways nice, the rough was a little thicker, they moved the pins for both days so the kids have a different course, and the tee boxes were moved both days.”
Koshimizu added that the inclusion of a “major” tournament on the Kenai Peninsula and in Fairbanks has given the summer golf season a much more diverse assortment of competitions in the state, which has helped golfers that don’t live in Anchorage and the surrounding areas.
“It’s really important because the title of our group is the Alaska Junior Golf Association, and for a while all the tournaments were played in the Anchorage area and everybody could go home for the night,” Koshimizu said. “But what wasn’t fair was the kids from Soldotna would always have to drive to Anchorage for a tournament, so to make it fair and make it a true Alaska organization, they needed to move out of the city.”
In 2014, the AJGA scheduled the Junior Masters and the Eclectic Therapists Open in Anchorage, the Alaska Junior Open in Soldotna and the State Championships in Fairbanks. The final tournament, the State Championships, is hosted by a different venue each year, and Koshimizu said Birch Ridge will host it in August 2015. Every year going forward will feature a tournament in each of the major regions, which includes Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna valleys, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula.
Tuesday was ended in fine fashion, as the boys 13- to 14-year-old age group was forced to a sudden-death ending, using the first two holes to decide second place. Jack Newell won the division with a two-day total of 166 on the par-70 layout, and Harry Weigle and Sullivan Menard finished tied for second with scores of 170, necessitating the playoff holes.
Both players bogeyed the first hole and parred the second, leading to the second attempt at the first hole. Weigle, 14, saved himself from instant elimination with a shot from the fairway that landed about 2 inches from the hole.
“I wasn’t really thinking about much, I was just thinking that I had a hard chip coming and if I could put it close, I could put the pressure on him,” Weigle said. “So I took the shot and I was amazed I got it that close.”
Weigle, from Anchorage, has competed in the Junior Open every year since it started in 2009, and said he was confounded why he was hitting a number of slices, instead of intended draws.
“In baseball I turn my bat over, and I hold my club like a baseball bat, so my club naturally turns over,” he said. “I was getting bad hops, bad bounces all day. The course was paying me back for that (in the tiebreaker holes).”
Weigle eventually won runner-up honors with a shot for par on the first hole that bettered the double bogey that Menard posted after landing his ball in the bushes on his second stroke.
In the boys 15 to 18 age group, Kenai Central sophomore Max Dye took the victory with a two-day total of 163. After Monday’s action, Dye and area golfer Tyler Yamada were tied for the top spot with 18-hole scores of 84, but Dye pulled away Tuesday with a score of 79 while Yamada finished with an 85.
“I just putted and chipped, and I did it better than my competitors,” Dye said.
Dye said this year was his first competing in the Junior Open, since the event is usually held in Anchorage, and added that his 3-iron club made a big difference on his tee shots. When it came down to him and Yamada, Dye said he focused solely on the task at hand.
“I was trying not to keep track of it,” he said. “It was just see what happened at the end.”
The crucial moment for Dye came on the 12th hole, when he managed to sink a putt for par that put him four strokes ahead of Yamada, who triple-bogeyed.
“He was in the woods a couple times, and I was in the woods myself but I had a good recovery,” Dye said.
The girls 11 to 13 age group was won by a dominant Katelin Richards, who won by a massive 51 strokes over Aliann Schmidt. Richards posted rounds of 98 and 92 to win with a final score of 190.
The boys 10 to 12 division was much closer, as Wyatt Ellis rallied from a 3-stroke deficit from the first day to tally a 2-stroke win over Ben Broyles. Ellis recorded a score of 44 Monday while Broyles shot 41, but Tuesday mixed things up a bit.
Broyles struggled with a quadruple bogey on the fourth hole while Ellis hit par that put him ahead by one stroke. On the final hole, both players were tied, but Broyles hit a double-bogey to Ellis’ par, giving Ellis the win.