SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 17, 2018) – If the first day of the 2018 PGA Jr. League Championship presented by National Car Rental proved anything at Grayhawk Golf Club, it’s to expect both the expected and unexpected.
This year’s expanded Championship field is comprised of six newcomers and six veterans (growing from eight in recent years), and one of each pulled ahead in their respective Divisions. The 2015 Champion Team California (San Diego) lead the Ryder Division with a 2-0-0 record and 15.5 points.
Ohio (Columbia Station 1-0-1) is in second place in the division, with Louisiana (Shreveport 1-1-0) in third. Washington (Bellingham 1-1-0) stands in fourth based on point differential. Virginia (Dulles 0-1-1) is in fifth, with Connecticut (Harwinton 0-2-0) in sixth place on the Ryder side of the standings.
Meanwhile, Team Minnesota (Blaine) surprisingly sits alone atop the Wanamaker Division with an identical 2-0 count, in front of Defending Champion Team Georgia (Duluth 1-0-1), which stands in second place. Texas (Montgomery 1-1-0) is in third place in the division. Illinois (Lemont 0-1-1) is in fourth, leading fifth-place Delaware (Wilmington 0-1-1) and sixth-place Arkansas (Hot Springs 0-1-1), based on points accumulated in the Wanamaker Division.
Team Minnesota knows that it is among some of the best competitors in the country. PGA Professional Coach Tony Serpico had just one piece of advice for his team: “Don’t be intimidated. Play your game.”
Its morning game against Texas proved just that. Minnesota’s Sam Udovich, 11, and Casimir “Cash” Dragich, 14, birdied the first four of five holes to win their first two flags.
“Since this is our team’s first time being here, I think it gives us more motivation to keep coming back, doing better and making more friends,” said Udovich.
“We really didn’t have expectations of coming here and beating Texas first thing,” said Serpico. “For us to get in front of them right away and take the win was awesome.”
Meanwhile, their not-so-secret weapon carries quite a resume. Kathryn VanArragon, 13, who played lights out all day long, is no stranger to high-level competitions. In June, she became the first-ever 7th grader to claim the Minnesota State AAA High School Golf Championship title—by three strokes.
“She was just so steady,” added Serpico. “She didn’t miss any shots, and her putter is unbelievable.”
Over in the Ryder Division—some three years after claiming the Championship—Team California (2-0) is looking to stake its claim on yet another title. The team won in dramatic fashion at the 2015 PGA Jr. League Championship at Disney’s Palm Course in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, with a 35-foot birdie putt by Krando Nishiba on a playoff hole.
“With golf, it’s about who is making putts,” said California Captain John Mason, PGA. “As the kids say, we're at the ‘Natty.’ There are no weak teams here… Every team is really good.”
The team battled Team Louisiana in the first session, winning 7 ½ - 4 ½.
“Our first group out was amazing – Phillip Kench and Ryan Abuan – they wiped out a very good first group from Louisiana and shot seven under,” said Mason. “They just played phenomenal golf.”
Kench, 14, and Abuan, 13, continued their hot streak in the afternoon against Virginia, winning all three flags. Still, Virginia would present a tough test.
“In the afternoon, the team started out poorly, and it wasn’t looking good at the beginning,” said Mason. “We turned around during the second half of the nine holes. I’m proud of the kids. They’re stepping up.”
Defending 2017 Champions Team Georgia stand just behind Team Minnesota in the Wanamaker Division, with a 1-1 record and 16.5 points. Georgia managed a 6-6 tie against Illinois in the morning, before routing Team Arkansas 10 ½ - 1 ½ in the afternoon.
“The kids had a rough morning, and we just did not make any putts,” said Team Georgia Captain Patrick McCrary, PGA. “They were pretty down after the tie, but we gave them a pep talk. We told them to keep rolling putts and they will fall. And, that was the difference in the afternoon.”
“We were tied overall this morning, and our team was pretty upset about that,” said Team Georgia’s Patmon Malcom, 11. “We came out ready to fire on all cylinders and played really well as a team.”
Two of Georgia’s pairings swept their matches to capture all three flags in the afternoon: Sara Im and Ethan Gao, both 13, as well as Chapman Barnett, 14, and Billy Abdow, 13.
“Sara and Ethan came back strong and captured three flags, and Chapman and Billy shot a 29…they are going to be tough to beat.”
As further testament to these evenly-matched competitors, three of the day’s early games ended in 6-6 ties.
In the Wanamaker Division, Team Arkansas tied newcomers Team Delaware, while veterans Team Illinois tied Team Georgia. The Ryder Division saw first-time competitors Team Virginia tie four-time Championship veterans Team Ohio.
The Championship continues with Sunday’s Day 2 of morning and afternoon divisional sessions. Monday morning will be the final session of divisional play. The top four teams will play in Monday afternoon’s Championship session, with the top two teams in each division playing for first and second place; and the two second place teams from each division playing for third and fourth place.
News & Notes
BIG AMBASSADOR NEWS:
Golden State Warriors All-Star and two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry and Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion Alex Morgan were named the newest PGA Jr. League Ambassadors yesterday. They join Ambassadors Rory McIlroy, Michelle Wie, Rickie Fowler and Lexi Thompson, all of whom are committed to growing youth golf. For a video of the announcement of Seth Curry and Alex Morgan becoming PGA Jr. League Ambassadors, please click here.
NATIONAL CAR RENTAL SUPPORT:
Tonight, Presenting Partner National Car Rental will host a private reception at Topgolf for a fun and relaxing evening, open to all Championship players and their families.
GOLF CHANNEL COVERAGE:
Each of the last two years, PGA REACH, Grayhawk Golf Club and National Car Rental have worked together with Golf Channel to air a two-hour, primetime special highlighting the event. This year’s show will debut on Dec. 4, airing at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT and 12:30 a.m. ET/9:30 p.m. PT.