AVON PARK — To prove that youth golf is on the rise in the Sunshine State, youngsters from outside Highlands County stole the spotlight at the 45th annual Bagwell Junior Invitational.
Despite being held over Fourth of July weekend, the prestigious tournament drew a competitive field of 47 players to River Greens Golf Club.
“We missed some participation because of the holiday weekend, but it was a good turnout, especially for the girls,” said River Greens head professional Jason Beatty. “We had 15 young ladies competing, and they were good, fast players.”
Andrew Wally, this year’s overall boys champion, secured his victory after a sudden death playoff hole against Jeremy Chaiser. Wally shot a 75 on Saturday and a 76 on Sunday for a two-day score of 151. While Chasier held a one-stroke lead on Wally after Saturday, he struggled on the final day of competition. However, his score was good enough to capture the boys 17 and 18 age group.
“It’s really cool to win,” Wally said, a native of Brandon. “There were some tough pin placements, but I got a good drives and was able to pull it out. I really want to thank River Greens and the people who put on this tournament for having us.”
Deerfield’s Katie Williamson carded a sizzling 149 to secure the girls overall championship. Williamson shot a 74-75 for a two-day score of 149 to emerge victorious.
“Playing in these tournaments in the summer really helps build my confidence,” she said. “The competition is really strong here and it really gets me prepared for under-pressure situations.”
The rest of the field produced a bevy of low scores. In the boys 12-14 division, Jordan Rodriguez shot a 159 (80, 79) to capture first place. Joel Johnson was second with a 178 (83, 95), and Adam Alvarez placed third with a 184 (90, 94).
Danie Gonzales shot a 152 (76, 76) to win the 15-16 age group. Steven Phelps was second with a 155 (78, 77) and Nicholas Badyna was third with a 161 (84, 77).
Behind Chasier in the 17-18 group was Ryan Stenmark, who shot a 155 (79, 76). Stenmark edged Jake Durkee, who also shot a 155 (78, 77) on the basis of matching cards.
On the girls side, Loren Perez won the 15 and under division with a 154 (75, 79). Ashlynn Joyner followed her with a 178 (90, 88).
Kelly Harris captured the girls 16 and over age group, carding a 162 (80, 82). She edged Shelby Hart, who also shot a 162 (78, 84), on the basis of matching cards.
While not sponsored by the Sertoma Junior Golf Tour, golfers who play the Sertoma Tour were awarded points if they competed in the Bagwell Invitational. The next Sertoma event is Thursday at 9 a.m. at Sebring Golf Club.
Beatty, who has experience playing in the Bagwell event as well as hosting it, said he’s thrilled to host the tournament.
“It’s a great event,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have it and we really enjoy it. It’s great to see a lot of young kids out there enjoying the game of golf and trying to get better.”