The Birch Ridge Junior Masters annually serves as one of the four majors for the Alaska Junior Golf Association.
It also serves as a showcase for the advanced junior program at Birch Ridge Golf Course.
Four of the six championships at the Monday and Tuesday tournament went to Birch Ridge golfers, with Danica Schmidt winning girls 14 to 18, Tait Cooper winning girls 10 and under, Shane Sundberg winning boys 10 to 12 and Richie Lundahl III winning boys 7 to 9.
Katelin Richards and her sister, Anika, took up the challenge of playing against boys and playing from the white tees, with Katelin taking the boys 13 to 15 title and Anika placing third. The Richards are a product of the advanced program, as well, having moved to Anchorage within the last year.
Bill Engberg, the head of the advanced juniors program, said 13 of the 27 golfers at the tournament were from the program. Engberg said there are 16 kids in the advanced program and 39 golfers overall in the junior program.
The advanced program, which has been running for five years, practices three times a week with an eye toward getting ready for tournament golf.
The two tournaments the program focuses on are the Junior Masters and the state tournament, which will be held Aug. 7 and 8 at Anchorage Golf Course and Moose Run Golf Course.
“I expect us to do well at the state championship, although that will be at two different golf courses so it will be harder to learn the courses,” Engberg said. “But with these kids, you never know.
“They’re talented, disciplined and they have good attitudes. They’re a coaches dream.”
The players were tested Tuesday by a steady, cold rain, but some of the champs didn’t look at it like that at all.
“It’s slippery, but it’s fun,” said Cooper, 10, of Kenai. “It’s kind of like different from the sun.”
Cooper had a two-day total of 110 to beat runner-up Keely Sundberg by seven strokes. The group played nine holes a day, with 35 serving as par.
According to Cooper, the key to her title was making the right club selection. For instance, she was hitting her 3-wood better than her driver, so she stuck with that club for the advantage.
Shane Sundberg, 12, of Sterling, also had no problem with the rain.
“I like playing in the rain,” he said. “It doesn’t bug me, but it bugs other people.”
Sundberg had a two-day total of 80 to defeat Soldotna’s Jakob Brown by three strokes and win the tournament for the second time. He said he was feeling confident he could hold Brown off after the first couple holes Tuesday, but Sundberg still would have liked to play better.
Schmidt, who will be a junior at Soldotna, admitted that she isn’t a big fan of showers, especially since she not only plays Birch Ridge, but works there, as well.
“The conditions didn’t help, that’s for sure,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time working out here, so I get used to dealing with wet feet.”
She had a two-day total of 178 to defeat the 199 of Carter Nelson, who also works at Birch Ridge. It’s the first title at the Junior Masters for Schmidt, and her best score ever in the tournament.
“I’ve grown a lot and I’m getting a lot stronger mentally,” she said.
An example came Tuesday, when Schmidt started with three bogeys and a nine on a par-4. But she played the remaining five holes of the front nine in 1-over-par.
Lundahl III, 8, of Sterling, won his second Junior Masters title in two tries. He is no fan of the rain.
“I’m used to it, but I don’t like it,” he said.
He had a total of 104, while Brandon Murphy was right behind at 108. But, impressively for a youngster, Lundahl III had a caddie who know little about golf, meaning he had to make all his club selections and decisions on the course, and still was able to pull out the win.
Richards, who had a 171 to top the 174 of runner-up Wyatt Ellis, was not happy with her play in her return to the course on which she grew up. She doesn’t like wet weather, but wasn’t blaming it.
“It’s extra clothes, you are cold and wet, and you’re under an umbrella the whole time,” she said.
She said the root of her troubles was her driver, normally a safe club for her.
“My driver was off,” she said. “I couldn’t get it in the fairway. It was rough.”
The final Junior Masters champion was Max Escobedo, a 16-year-old from Wasilla. Escobedo had the top round among boys 16 to 18 on Monday with a 77, but the other four golfers were all within six strokes of him. He finished with a 161 to edge Brody Vecera by three.
“The rain was a big factor,” Escobedo said. “It’s tough to play in it, but I try to play through it.”
He said his two keys for playing in the rain are keeping his grips dry and keeping the ball in the fairway. He pulled those two things off, then he said strong putting was enough to deliver him the tournament.
Birch Ridge Junior Masters
18 holes – par 70
at Birch Ridge Golf Course
Mon Tues Total
Boys 16 to 18
Max Escobedo 77 84 161
Brody Vecera 83 81 164
Jack Newell 79 87 166
Baron Farrell 82 90 172
Sullivan Menard 83 100 183
Boys 13 to 15
Katelin Richards 84 87 171
Wyatt Ellis 91 83 174
Anika Richards 85 96 181
Alan Huitt 98 92 190
Kyle Garrity 114 112 226
Michael Cramp 113 115 228
Girls 14 to 18
Danica Schmidt 88 90 178
Carter Nelson 100 99 199
9 holes – par 35
Girls 10 and under
Tait Cooper 53 57 110
Keely Sundberg 56 61 117
Evelyn Cooper 63 63 126
Boys 10 to 12
Shane Sundberg 40 40 80
Jakob Brown 42 41 83
Hudson Mobley 58 63 121
Boys 7 to 9
Richie Lundahl III 50 54 104
Brandon Murphy 54 54 108
Adam Coghill 54 55 109
Michael Davidson 53 67 120
Josh Cowan 65 56 121
Boone Widaman 60 66 126
Clayton Cooper 72 60 132