Sullivan Menard, a sophomore at Colony High School, had been on Birch Ridge Golf Course for over two hours Tuesday when he found himself eight strokes down to leader Max Escobedo entering the back nine.
The sun was high in the sky. Temperatures were teetering on 80 degrees. And the course setup was hard and fast, yet fair.
The odds were definitely against Menard repeating as a champion at the two-day Birch Ridge Jr Masters, one of the four majors put on by the Alaska Junior Golf Association.
But Menard made par on every hole on the back nine, capping a round of 10-over-par 80 and a two-day total of 169 to nip Escobedo by one stroke in the boys 13- through 15-year-old age category.
“When you are down, you always dream you can come back,” Menard said. “I’ve seen it on TV, but it was cool to actually have it happen.”
Menard said the key to the comeback was his putter. He made a lot of long putts, but his biggest par save came on the par-4 12th hole.
After hooking his tee ball into the trees on the left, Menard elected to play his second shot down the adjacent 16th fairway.
He then popped his third over the trees and onto the green, where he drained a 20-footer for par.
“The course was tough,” Menard said. “I give credit to Bill (Engberg) and his staff. It was hard, fast and fun to play.”
The Jr Masters is held at Birch Ridge every year, and area golfers were able to take home titles in four of the seven age groups.
In girls 14 to 18, Katelin Richards, who will be a freshman at Kenai Central, widened her lead on the second day to top Danica Schmidt, who will be a sophomore at Soldotna. Richards was at 169 while Schmidt was at 192.
Richards, a two-time winner of the State Jr Championships, said her mental game was not where she wants it to be as she prepares to play in the women’s State Amateur for the first time.
Last week, at the Anchorage Jr Masters, Richards had rounds of 78 and 81 to tie for the best score among all genders.
On her home course, Richards was hoping to at least match that effort but fell short.
“Golf is a mental game, and my mental game was off,” she said.
Katelin’s sister, Anika Richards of Kenai Middle School, was the only entrant for girls 11 to 13, but she still found plenty of competition.
Richards played with the 10- to 12-year-old boys and locked horns with Shane Sundberg of Sterling Elementary.
The three-time winner of the State Jr Championships matched Sundberg with a 39 on Monday.
It was the lowest round in competition for Richards, with her low at Birch Ridge being 37. Sundberg, who has a 35 at Birch Ridge, matched his low in competition.
Tuesday, Richards shot 45 and Sundberg had a 43 to win his age division going away for his first Birch Ridge Jr Masters title.
“It’s not bad,” Sundberg said. “It’s pretty good for a tournament, but I’ve played better.”
Richards said she wasn’t happy about her score on the second day, but still enjoyed going against Sundberg.
“Me and Shane had a side game to see who would win,” she said. “We pushed each other so that we could both do the best that we could.
“I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t catch him.”
The final winner from the area is a name familiar to area golf fans. Richie Lundahl III, son of area pro Rich Lundahl, took the boys 9 and under.
The Soldotna player won going away with a two-day total of 109 in his first tournament. Even though he started better than he finished, Lundahl III said he was looking forward to playing in a tournament again.
Amongst boys 16 to 18, Brody Vecera, a senior at South High School in Anchorage, pulled off a worst-to-first story despite playing without his 3-wood.
From July 4 to 6, Vecera finished last at the Junior North and South Championship at Pinehurst in North Carolina.
Alaska’s current temperatures are nothing to Vecera.
“What felt good is being back in this climate,” Vecera said. “It was 95 there, with humidity.”
While Vecera made it through the trip in one piece, his 3-wood did not. While he leans on that club at Birch Ridge, his 164 without the club still earned him another Birch Ridge Jr Masters title. Jack Newell of Eagle River was second at 173.
Vecera said his title felt safe when his 5-wood found the fairway on the 18th hole. He had played that hole three times in the tournament and taken double bogey or worse each time due to poor tee balls.
Winning the girls 10 and under was Karly Ellis, a 10-year-old from Anchorage. Ellis, who has one State Jr Championship to her credit, said the highlight of her tournament was making a four on the par-3 eighth at Birch Ridge.
Birch Ridge Jr Masters
Monday, Tuesday at Birch Ridge
18 holes (Par 70)
Name M T Ttl
Boys 16 to 18
Brody Vecera 84 80 164
Jack Newell 92 81 173
Tyler Young 86 89 175
Baron Farrell 87 94 181
Girls 14 to 18
Katelin Richards 85 84 169
Danica Schmidt 91 101 192
Boys 13 to 15
Sullivan Menard 89 80 169
Max Escobedo 86 84 170
Wyatt Ellis 91 83 174
Brock Kant 104 94 198
Caleb Tachick 119 108 227
Lance Kramer 111 122 233
Nine holes (Par 35)
Boys 10 to 12
Shane Sundberg 39 43 82
Jakob Brown 51 49 100
Kyle Garrity 61 50 111
Sam Klein 57 58 115
Hudson Mobley 69 61 130
Girls 11 to 13
Anika Richards 39 45 84
Boys 9 and under
Richie Lundahl III 57 58 109
Will Klein 65 64 129
Josh Cowan 62 70 132
Dax Widaman 70 66 136
Boone Widaman 68 73 141
Beauden Sandahl 74 75 149
Girls 10 and under
Karly Ellis 54 59 113
Evelyn Cooper 70 66 136
Tait Cooper 71 74 145