CCNC Hosts 'Major': Junior Masters Brings Out EJGA Stars
It was cold and drizzling rain, but the smiles were huge as the golfers gathered around the scoreboard in the Country Club of North Carolina halfway house Sunday.
From diminutive Chris Eagle Kim in the 10-11-year-old division to lanky Tanner Gross in the 16-18 division, the trophies were accepted with handshakes, congratulations and short speeches. It was the Eastern Junior Golf Association’s Junior Masters, and for the young players it was one of their “majors,” with everything except the green jacket.
Maybe that’s in the future for one of these young stars.
Stuart Taylor and Dale Briggs, two popular Sandhills professionals, ramrod the EJGA, and while neither would lay claim to being another Clifford Roberts or Hord Hardin, they do have the desire to make this tour the best it can be for the kids who travel to play in the 15 annual events. And they want the Junior Masters to be one of the tour’s showcases.
“We’re hoping to elevate this tournament to national status,” Taylor said. “Now we’re just basically made up of North and South Carolina kids, but we want to make this event special.
“We have dads and granddads caddying for the kids, and we give them bibs with the player’s name on the back. This is the third year we’ve held the Junior Masters, and it’s the only tournament that we do that.”
This event is special because of the venue, too. In its three-year history, it has been held at Eagle Point in Wilmington, Mid South in Pinehurst, and CCNC’s Dogwood Course, all high-quality layouts.
“We’re happy to be at CCNC,” Taylor said, “and we’re hoping for this to become the tournament’s permanent home.”
Gross was just happy that CCNC was the host this year.
“I love this layout,” the 16-year-old home-school student from Archdale said. “The greens were really smooth and running great. And the course just fits my eye.”
Gross shot 1-over-par 73-72—145 to win the 16-18 division by four shots over runner-up Caleb Keck of Reidsville. He had three birdies each day.
“The highlight in my first round came when I ran in a 50-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole,” he said. “Today, I just started fast and was three-under on the first four holes.”
Gross, whose favorite PGA Tour player is Australian Adam Scott, is hoping to play college golf. “There are a couple of schools I’m looking at,” he said.
You can bet there are a couple of schools looking at him, too.
Ross Robison, a student at Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, shot 72-78—150 to win the 14-15 division, nipping Eric Bae of Cary and Harrison Frye of High Point by a stroke.
Josh Stockwell of Aberdeen was fourth with 156, and James Sugg of Pinehurst fifth with 162. Ben Chrystler of Whispering Pines shot 166, and Bryan D’Ostroph of Whispering Pines had 177.
The 15-year-old Robison pointed to putting as the culprit for his higher score on Sunday. “I couldn’t make the short putts today,” he said. “I hit 16 greens on Saturday and 14 today, so my ball striking was in a groove this week.”
Robison has been competing on the EJGA Tour for three years and has won at least once each season.
Krystian Romero, a 13-year-old student at West Pine Middle School, is a newcomer to the area and also to the EJGA, but he’s making his presence felt quickly.
“This is only my second tournament since moving here from San Diego two months ago,” he said.
And how has he fared?
“I’ve won twice,” he said.
That two-for-two start (he also won at Pine Needles a couple of weeks ago) has earned the respect of Taylor, who has agreed to grant Romero his wish and move him up to the 14-15 division for the next outing at Seven Lakes.
“He’s good enough,” Taylor said.
“This is a beautiful course and it’s challenging,” Romero said of CCNC after posting 78-77—155 to finish 10 strokes ahead of runner-up Dalton Mauldin of Sanford. “I hit a lot of solid shots and hit a lot of greens, but I struggled with putts from 15 feet and in.”
Romero is enjoying the tour and is impressed so far.
“I’m really surprised at the great courses we’re playing,” he said.
Kim actually won the 10-11 division on Saturday when he shot 78, although a steady 80 on Sunday wrapped it up. His 158 was two strokes better than Zach Brown of Bermuda Run, who had matching 80s.
“I could have done better,” Kim said, shaking his head. “I just couldn’t make a lot of short putts today. I made four birdies on Saturday, but none today.”
Brown blamed his 80-80 showing on a short game that didn’t cooperate.
“I could have shot 72-72,” he said, “but my short game just wasn’t working very well.”
Brown figured he lost the tournament on Saturday when he made an 8 on a par-5 hole. But he wasn’t sure which hole the triple bogey came on.
“I don’t know which hole it was,” he said, smiling. “I don’t keep up with the holes. I just play golf.”
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