If the overriding focus of the oldest age division in the Future Champions Junior Golf Tour is learning to compete for the steeper road ahead, it was mission accomplished Monday.
There is no keener taskmaster for that than a sudden-death playoff, and it taught both Pediatrics Plus Invitational combatants a thing or two about competing.
Dustin Travis, who won the playoff over Caleb McKinney with a bogey on the second extra hole, learned the importance of sticking to a plan even if things don’t go so well initially. McKinney learned the value of emotional balance in the heat of competition.
Both players shot 4-over-par 76 in regulation at Cider Ridge and were sent out to the par-5 18th to settle the score. Travis, a rising junior at White Plains, played his back nine in even par, and McKinney chipped in off the flagstick from 30 yards for birdie on his 18th hole to force the playoff.
They parred it the first time, then Travis won for the second week in a row with a five-foot bogey putt. That came after Travis hit his second shot into the right woods, took a drop and then hit it long and left.
“I’ve played in a playoff before, but only one in my entire life,” Travis said. “I lost that playoff, so coming into this one it was like I wanted to get back what I lost. It gave me a lot of experience. My nerves were reckless when I got up to that first tee. Hitting it right, hitting it left … I just had to stick with it and keep my composure. I just held it together better.”
For McKinney, a rising senior at Faith Christian, the nerves of his first playoff were evident.
After driving it consistently all day, he drove it way right on the deciding hole, took a drop and then hit next shot into the right hazard. He tried to hit out of the ground cover but advanced the ball only a few feet, then lost his next shot into the left water hazard. He took another drop and then bladed that shot over the green, from which he conceded.
“Dustin’s a great competitor. He’s very consistent,” McKinney said. “When you go into a playoff you just have to be ready. I wasn’t ready.”
The Future Champions Tour is the county’s newest incarnation into junior golf development, joining the likes of the Jerry Pate and ERA/King Realty tours that developed those generations of future county standouts. It has 51 boys and girls registered from all reaches of the county, and each of its first two events has drawn 38 players.
The top three finishers in each age division receive an award. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you don’t know how competitive these kids are.
“You want to be able to play in the top three and get a plaque,” said 15-year-old Madilyn Turner, a rising sophomore on Pleasant Valley’s girls team. “You’re trying to win. You’re trying to beat the other competitors. You want to be friends and everything, but you really want to win and try your best, like it was the sectionals or sub-state. To have competition like this and play different courses, it really helps so you’re not nervous when your (high school) season gets back.”
While the older division is geared toward future levels of competition, the focus for the 10-and-unders is developing an interest in the game. For the 11-14s, it’s the fundamentals and rules of golf.
“We’re trying to teach these kids to have fun and the rules of golf and golf etiquette. We’re definitely accomplishing that,” tour director Marcus Harrell said. “There’s no doubt they’re learning to compete. And not only are they learning, they’re having a blast at the same time. We haven’t had one person really complain about anything that’s going on. Everybody’s calling and saying it’s one of the most fun things they’ve ever done.”
Added 13-year-old Jacob Lecroy: “It is real fun, definitely.”
Lewis Lecroy never picked up the game until he was 41, but he’s appreciative Jacob has such a program to develop his game.
Jacob, who has been playing since he was 6, won his age division Monday by more than 20 shots after posting an 81 and is considering asking to play with the older boys. He shot the lowest 18-hole score in last week’s inaugural event at The Lion Golf Club in Bremen, Ga.
“This is super,” the elder Lecroy said. “I think Marcus has a good thing going, and all it’s going to do is get better. It’s big because they’re out here playing. If they werent out here playing there not going to get any better. Golf is something you have to play three to seven days a week to get any better at all. If you come out here one time a week, you’re not going to get any better. They didn’t have these opportunities (when he was younger). Now they’ve got the opportunity to be out here playing.”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.