By Jack O’Leary
Fans gasp in amazement about how PGA Tour and LPGA Tour rookies come out and appear ready to win. A teenage girl like Lexi Thompson challenges LPGA bylaws and wins, and then wins a tournament. How does this happen?
It’s simple really. There is no learning curve on the professional tours anymore. The young professionals of today went around that bend years ago. Here in Florida, it’s more aggressive than anywhere else because Florida is the home of the Florida Junior Tour.
This year, under the direction of Darin Green, the Florida State Golf Association’s director of Junior Golf, the Florida Junior Tour will hold 22 events.
“We’re trying to provide high-quality, affordable tournaments for players who enjoy competing,” said Green, modestly.
The truth is, this program provides a lot more. For example, there’s the Future of Golf Foundation that provides a scholarship of sorts to players who qualify for national championships to help defray the expenses. There’s the $40,000 in college scholarship money granted to graduating seniors. Last year, seven high school seniors each were awarded $3,000 a year towards college expenses for each of their four years.
Then of course, there are the life lessons that golf teaches everyone. These kids learn them at each event, as do their parents. The FJT has codes of conduct for both players and parents. You’re not going to find “Hockey Dads” duking it out in FJT galleries.
“Parents cause a very, very small problem,” said Green. “It’s golf and they understand it’s a game for ladies and gentlemen. The only thing that might come up is on rulings and that’s because the parent may not have a clear understanding of the rules, but that’s really not much of a problem.”
The FJT was started in 2004 and Green is a seven-year veteran. He’s seeing a growth area that somewhat reflects a burgeoning national trend – women in golf is on the rise.
“Recently, we’re starting to see a growing number of girls ages 13, 14 and 15 joining the Tour and doing well,” he explained. “We’re also seeing more elite boys focused on national events, not just one or two, who play on the FJT.”
The growth of junior golf has been phenomenal. There really was a day when a kid’s exposure to competitive golf was mirrored best by the caddie tournament in the movie “Caddyshack.” For many of us, that was the sum total of our golf experience. You invented your own swing and you got through the best way you could.
When you hear someone yearn for the good old days, don’t listen. Here in Florida and in other states as well, the kids have it a lot better today. They’re better players and they’ll stay with the game forever. They’re better off and the game is better off for it.
In the Florida Junior Tour event held at Southwood Golf Club in Tallahassee, St. Petersburg’s Jack Maguire grabbed a one-stroke lead with an opening-round, 4-under-par 68 and finished with an even-par 72 for a 140 total, good for a one-shot win ahead of Orangeville, Canada’s Ryan Borg and Bradenton’s Jeffrey Meltzer in the Boys 16-18 division.
Emily Kurey, from Alpharetta, Ga., won her first FJT event by recording rounds of 77-72 – 149, good for a four-shot win in the Girls 16-18 division ahead of Tampa’s Alison Armstrong, who posted scores of 78-75–153. Ocala’s Angela Gaines finished third at 157.
In the Winter Series event held at Windermere Country Club near Orlando, Sarasota’s Jerry Rose rode a tournament-low round of 3-under-par 69 to a wire-to-wire win in the age 40-54 division by following with a smooth 74 for a 1-under-par 143 total. He finished six shots clear of Jerry DeLongchamp, of Sebring. Stevenson Clarke, from West Palm Beach, Jacksonville’s Keith Nagy and Andy Spears, of Palm City finished in a three-way tie for third at 151.
Dennis Brady from Melbourne birdied the second hole of a sudden death playoff against Stuart’s Lee King to capture the Senior Division. Both players shot identical scores of 71-73 – 144 in the 36 holes of regulation play. Robert Lundquist, of Sanford and Kim Schwenke, from Temple Terrace tied for third at 146.
In the Super Senior Division, Sarasota’s Jerry Jackson opened with a 2-under-par 70, giving him a three-stroke lead, and followed with a 75 for a 1-over-par 145 total to hold on for a one-shot margin of victory on Orlando’s Edward Craig. Pat Monti, from The Villages, finished third at 149.
Florida will host another elite amateur championship October 19-21. The Timuquana Cup, to be played at the venerable Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, will host a field comprised of 40 top mid-amateurs and 20 top senior amateurs for 54 holes of stroke play. Timuquana CC was the site of the 2002 USGA Senior Amateur Championship.
“We want to share a very special Donald Ross (designed) course with amateur golfers from across the country who enjoy competing in a small, select field of players,” said Timuquana CC member, PGA Tour player, U.S. Amateur champion, network announcer and Timuquana Cup tournament champion Steve Melnyk.
There are plans being developed for a qualifying event for Jacksonville-area golfers for a limited number of spots in the Timuquana Cup.