Spurred by home-course advantage, Birch Ridge Golf Course won four of the eight divisions contested at the Alaska Junior State Championship on Monday and Tuesday.
Birch Ridge became the first course on the Kenai Peninsula to host the event, and area golfers took advantage not only individually, but as a group. In the team competition that wrapped up Tuesday, Peninsula was first with 708 points, while Anchorage was second with 721 and Valley was third at 794. The team competition used select Alaska Junior Golf Association events throughout the season to determine the winner.
The lowest two-day total in the entire tournament belonged to Katelin Richards, who is going into eighth grade at Kenai Middle School. Richards is just 13, but her rounds of 78 and 83 at the par-70 layout were good enough for a big victory in the girls 14 through 18, 18-hole category. This is the second Alaska Junior State title for Richards.
Richards also shared the Most Dedicated Golfer award with her sister, Anika, who won the girls 11 through 13 category for her third Alaska Junior State crown.
Katelin came into this season as the clear top girls golfer at her age, but she said she pushed herself to get even better because she wants to play in college and even make a career out of the game. That’s why she’s so happy with the 78 she put up in Monday competition and the 74 she shot out of competition at Birch Ridge recently.
Would she have believed she could get that low when the season started?
“I wouldn’t have believed you,” Katelin said. “My best score before this summer was an 86. I’m really happy with how I’ve improved.”
Even though she plays from different tees than the older boys, Katelin also said having the best two-day total at the tournament means a lot.
“The boys used to tease me that I would just play in tournaments so I could hang out with my friends in Anchorage,” Katelin said. “Now they know I can play really good golf.”
Anika, headed into sixth grade at Kenai Middle, played just nine holes per day, and also had a comfortable victory with a two-day total of 96. She wasn’t totally thrilled with her 50 on Monday, but she liked the way she finished with a birdie on the par-4 ninth.
“I usually don’t get birdies,” she said. “I hit my tee shot through the woods 3 or 4 feet from the green. I chipped up and putted in.”
Anika will now go to the Drive Putt and Chip Championships subregional at Golf Club at Hawks Prairie in Lacey, Washington, on Sunday. She will look to advance to the regional at Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington, and the final at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Katelin is an alternate for the subregional.
Danica Schmidt, who will be a freshman at Soldotna Prep, gave area girls a third title when she defeated Caitlin Gohr in a playoff for supremacy in the 14 through 18, nine-hole division. Schmidt’s round of 50 on Monday gave her a six-stroke lead, but her 59 on Tuesday opened the door for Gohr.
“It was my worst golf of the year,” Schmidt said of her Tuesday round. “I couldn’t keep it in the fairway.”
A runner-up at Alaska Junior State the past two years, Schmidt steeled herself for the sudden-death playoff. She drove first at the par-4 first, and piped the ball in the fairway and 60 yards from the green. Gohr was in the left rough about 100 yards out, and played short of the green, while Schmidt put her approach about 40 feet below the hole.
Gohr missed a long putt for par, leaving Schmidt to two-putt for par and the victory.
Schmidt, who thanked all the tournament organizers and Teresa and Eddie Sibolboro for giving her a putter she rode to victory, said her experience in other sports paid off with her best drive of the day when it mattered most.
“I play a lot of sports, so I know when it matters, you shouldn’t be really anxious,” she said.
The final girls title was taken by Anchorage’s Karly Ellis, whose two-day total of 137 topped Birch Ridge’s Keely Sundberg by two strokes. Ellis also was given the Rookie of the Year award.
Max Dye, who will be a junior at Kenai Central, took first in the boys 16 through 18 division for his first Alaska Junior State title. While winning the tournament was one of his goals for this season, Dye had mixed feelings when it was over.
“I was happy that I won it, but I was not happy with the way I performed in it,” he said. “I guess I can’t complain.”
Dye had rounds of 80 and 82 to clear Tyler Young by six strokes. But Dye said he normally shoots in the mid-70s.
“I couldn’t put anything together today,” he said.
He said he hopes the State Amateur, which will be Thursday through Sunday at Palmer Golf Course, will better reflect the improvements in consistency that he has made this summer.
Max Escobedo, a 14-year-old from Wasilla, emerged with the title for boys 13 through 15. After an 83 on Monday, Escobedo had an 81 on Tuesday and took advantage when Sullivan Menard had a 91. Menard hung on to win second place in a playoff over Jack Newell.
After the tournament, honors kept on coming when Escobedo won the Sportsmanship Award. Organizers said a big reason is how eager Escobedo is to help fellow competitors find lost balls.
Escobedo said he pulled off his comeback by focusing on his game. He said with the fickle bounces at Birch Ridge, he had no time to worry about what his competitors were doing.
The Most Improved golfer also came from the division in Birch Ridge’s Brock Kant. Kant had a 224 at Alaska Junior State last season and improved to 197 this year.
In the boys 10 through 12 division, Ben Broyles, a 12-year-old from Anchorage, pulled off an impressive comeback on Birch Ridge’s Shane Sundberg. Sundberg, 10, led by two strokes heading into Tuesday, and had upped that total to four strokes heading into the back nine. But Broyles ripped off a 1-over-par 36 closing kick to grab the crown.
Broyles finished at 165, while Sundberg was at 167 and Broyles’ rival Wyatt Elllis was at 172.
“It was a pretty intense tournament,” Broyles said. “We were easily the closest together after the first day.”
The boys 9 and under title went to Anchorage’s Sebastian Maglaqui, who had a two-day total of 117 to edge Birch Ridge’s Sam Klein by three strokes.
at Birch Ridge Golf Course
Girls 14-18, 18 holes
Katelin Richards 78-83—161
Carter Nelson 114-108—122
Cianna Jorgenson 105-122—227
Girls 14-18, 9 holes
*Danica Schmidt 50-59—109
Caitlin Gohr 56-53—109
Aliann Schmidt 56-54—110
Emma Broyles 64-67—131
Girls 11-13, 9 holes
Anika Richards 50-46—96
Gabi Gohr 59-58—117
Graci Gohr 61-81—142
JulieAnn Nye 81-67—148
Jolie Widaman 76-74—150
Girls 10 and under, 9 holes
Karly Ellis 68-69—137
Keely Sundberg 74-65—139
Boys 16-18, 18 holes
Max Dye 80-82—162
Tyler Young 87-81—168
Dustin Day 96-92—188
Dylan Campbell 122-116—238
Boys 13-15, 18 holes
Max Escobedo 83-81—164
*Sullivan Menard 79-91—170
Jack Newell 85-85—170
Hudson Jackson 94-89—183
Grant Epple 93-95—188
Brock Kant 90-107—197
Brandon Groesback 113-92—205
Zach Day 109-101—210
Cody Nye 111-115—226
Boys 10-12, 18 holes
Ben Broyles 87-78—165
Shane Sundberg 85-82—167
Wyatt Ellis 89-83—172
Aden Sadler 92-87—179
Caleb Tachick, 9 holes 61-67—128
Hudson Mobley, 9 holes 72-70—142
Boys 9 and under, 9 holes
Sebastian Maglaqui 60-57—117
Sam Klein 61-59—120
* — won playoff.