The third time proved to be a charm for the Midlands Jr. PGA Golf League’s all-star team that advanced to the organization’s national championship tournament with three victories in last weekend’s sectional competition.
“It’s very exciting, and I’m proud of them” said Tom Mason, a PGA professional and the team’s coach who owns Par Tee Driving Range. “We had reached the sectional finals the past two years and came up one point short. This time, we got that (decisive) point.
“This is pretty cool and a really significant accomplishment. The best thing I can equate it to is the Little League World Series, and you know how excited the kids are to get there. That’s what it is for us – very exciting. The season started with more than 30,000 kids on 2,500 teams nation-wide, and this group of 10 youngsters is in the final eight teams.”
The Midlands team of 12- and 13-year-olds is composed of top players from the league’s squads – Columbia, Spring Valley, Hidden Valley and Par Tee. They advanced through local competition with wins over teams from Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Clemson and Charlotte, and defeated state champions from Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina in the sectionals.
Each competition is composed of four matches over nine holes with a captain’s choice format. Three points are available in each match.
The Midlands’ lineup consists of Matthew Hutto and Jalen Castle leading off with Palmer Mason and Ford Reynolds in the second match, Elliott Pope, Spencer Benton and Jordan Rivers in the third and Derek Loy, Johnny Hyman and Guy Buffum in the fourth.
In the sectionals at Servierille, Tenn., “our team played very well, and we had to,” Mason said. “The Tennessee team beat us by one point to go the nationals last year, and Greensboro had a really strong team.”
The Midlands team defeated Tennessee 7 ½-4 ½ and Kentucky 10 ½-1 ½. North Carolina beat the same teams, setting up a winner-take-all showdown for the national berth.
“We saw some incredible golf on both sides,” Mason said. “Jalen made a 45-putt for eagle on the last hole and they finished 5-under for nine holes. The second Greensboro team finished 8-under in playing some of the best golf I’ve seen kids play. Our third team had six birdies and an eagle, and the teams were tied with one match on the course.”
In the final duel, the teams split the first two points to leave the score tied. Then, Buffum made a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 7 and Hyman set up another birdie – and the decisive point – on No. 8 with a shot to four feet in a 6½-5½ victory.
“The last group played nine holes in 7-under,” Mason said. “To repeat myself, there was a lot of outstanding golf played by the young people on all the teams, and when you see that, you have to feel good about the future of golf. It obviously speaks well of the quality of junior golf in our state.”
The national tournament will be played Nov. 5-8 in Orlando, Fla., with each time playing five matches. The team from Alpharetta, Ga. will give the southeast two of the eight finalists.
The Proveaux brothers, Clemson senior Cody and Gilbert High senior Caleb, fired a 10-under-par 62 to lead three teams into the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. Joining the brothers in qualifying at the Members Club’s Woodcreek Course are the teams of Rob Simmons-John Patterson and Ellison McCoy-Lee Palms. The national tournament will be played in May at Winged Foot in suburban New York City. … Closed five months for upgrades that included re-grassing of tee boxes, greens and fairway and installation of a new irrigation system, Harbour Town Golf Links at Hilton Head Island has reopened. … South Carolinians in the U.S. Mid-Amateur that began Saturday in Vero Beach, Fla.: Todd White (Spartanburg), Thomas Todd (Laurens), Rob Simmons (Beaufort) and Tee Opperman (Pawleys Island). State players in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in Choudrant, La.: Catherine Shealy (Columbia), Dawn Woodard (Greer) and Colleen Estes (Mt. Pleasant).