Beechler Reigns at U.S. Kids
Pinehurst’s A.J. Beechler showed off his vertical leaping ability after draining a birdie putt on the 18th hole at Talamore Saturday.
The 11-year-old golf phenom didn’t need to hole the putt to win the Boys 11 division at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship this week — he already had the tournament well in hand by that point. But it provided a fitting exclamation point to a sensational championship run that included scoring all three rounds in the 60s and a 10-under-par final score.
When his 206th shot found the bottom of the cup, the smooth-swinging rising sixth-grader at West Pine Middle channeled his best impression of Phil Mickelson at the 2004 Masters, raising both arms in the air, jumping a few inches off the ground and letting out a yell of joy in celebration.
“It feels the greatest,” an exhausted but exuberant Beechler said after his win. “I don’t think I’ll have any other feeling like this ever again. I have to thank my caddie (father, Doug) and everybody to help me and support me.”
Beechler opened the championship with a 69 on Friday to put him out front by three strokes.
Thunderstorms on Friday threw a wrench in the tournament, forcing Beechler to play 25 holes on Saturday. Beechler got back to work with a shotgun start at 7 a.m., finished the second round, went home for “a little chill,” and then was back at the course for a 1:30 final round tee time. He completed play around 6 p.m., making for a marathon day.
The interruption didn’t stop Beechler from carding a 4-under-par 68 in the second round. He backed that up with 69 in the third and final outing.
A 2-under-par 34 on the front nine got him off to a solid start. Though the greens were unkind to him a few times on the back, he ground through it and birdied 16 and 18 to finish in style. He said having his dad on the bag was a lot of fun, and they worked well together reading putts.
“He helped me with my putts that I saw different breaks and we worked it out,” he said. “Some fell, some didn’t. It was a fun time coming out shooting 10-under par for the tournament. I think that’s the lowest I ever shot in a three-day tournament.”
He thinks he’ll remember the putt and celebration on 18 for the rest of his life.
While this is Beechler’s first victory at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, this isn’t his first trip to the winner’s circle. He has four U.S. Kids Golf regional titles and literally dozens of other junior championships on his impressive resume.
He also won the Boys 8 division at the inaugural U.S. Kids Golf European Championship in Scotland in 2008 by five strokes at 4 under. He was the only American boy to win that year.
Though he and his family were all drained from the World Championship, he fulfilled a committment to play in the U.S. Kids Golf Pinehurst Tour Championship Monday at Pinehurst No. 8, which, not surprisingly, he won.
Beechler said his favorite PGA Tour players right now are Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. Fowler would probably approve of the bright orange shirt Beechler wore during the championship last week.
Mom, Lynne, said that A.J. was looking forward to a couple of weeks off before school started. She said he would go out for the West Pine Middle golf team and play in the N.C. Middle School Championship in September.
Beechler was one of seven locals competiting in the various age groups at the World Championship this week. They included: Sean Chang, of Aberdeen, (T83rd Boys 12, 82-75-79—236); Benjamin Crow, of Pinehurst, (T85th Boys 11, 80-82-79 —241); Symon Balbin, of Pinehurst, (T59th Boys 9, 81-79-84—244); Colin Dutton, of Foxfire, (T65th, Boys 8, 45-45-46—136); Conlan Kane, of Pinehurst, (T76th, Boys 8, 47-49-46—142); and Garrett Kane, (T21st Boys 6 & Under, 39-39-43—121).
Other division winners were:
Girls 7 & Under: Alexa Pano, of Lake Worth, Fla., (38-33-34—105)
Girls 8: Romina Villanueva, of Mexico, (38-37-34—109)
Girls 9: Karah Sanford, of Escondido, Calif., (31-33-32—96)
Girls 10: Anina Ku, of Basking Ridge, N.J., (63-69-72—204)
Girls 11: Elizabeth Moon, of Forrest City, Ark., (68-73-71—212)
Girls 12: Clare Amelia Legaspi, of the Philippines, (70-71-71—212)
Boys 6 & Under: Allan Kournikova, of Palm Beach, Fla., (34-32-32—98)
Boys 7: Jed Dy, of the Philippines, (34-33-34—101)
Boys 8: Nicklas Staub, of Boynton Beach, Fla., (37-36-35—108)
Boys 9: Karl Vilips, of Australia, (73-70-67—210)
Boys 10: Wen Liang Xie, of China, (70-68-71—207)
Boys 12: Koichiro Ishika, of Japan, (67-67-69—203).
Contact John Krahnert III at email@example.com.
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