AVON — A 10-member team of junior golfers, including five Hendricks County youths, has qualified for the Junior PGA All-Stars National Tournament after winning the Chicago Regional qualifier last weekend at Cog Hill Country Club.
The Junior PGA All-Stars program is golf’s answer to the Little League World Series in baseball. It’s a new program started just three years ago, with this being the first year for Prestwick Country Club to participate as a sponsor course.
Local course junior teams competed against each other before being grouped together in districts to form squads for all-star competitions that lead up to the six final teams qualifying for the national tournament.
Competing as Team Indy in regional play, the newly dubbed Team Indiana was the lone unbeaten squad in Chicago, earning a trip to Atlanta as one of six finalists that will play at TPC Sugarleaf Country Club Sept. 6-8.
Team Indiana, with players ranging from ages 10 to 13, has a heavy Hendricks County influence as five of the 10 players and both coaches also represent Prestwick Country Club in Avon.
Avon players Mark and Luke Poole, Sydney Stiener, and Tyler Nickol, along with Plainfield’s Kasey Lilly made the district all-team comprised of junior players from programs sponsored by Prestwick, Winding River Golf Course of Indianapolis, Riverside Golf Course of Indianapolis, and The Legends Country Club of Franklin.
Prestwick Golf Shop Assistant Jared Alexander is the team’s head coach, with Prestwick owner and PGA pro Ben Weaver assisting him.
The other team members are Jonah Manning and Corey Miller from Winding River, Akio Fujita and Brad Kruszynski from Riverside, and Peyton Short from The Legends.
Alexander said he has enjoyed teaching and leading the local team in its trek to the top.
“We have a great group of kids, and that makes it fun to go out and do this,” he said. “Even though they’re from different courses, they’ve grown into a really strong team and are embracing one another.”
The format in the Junior PGA All-Stars utilizes all 10 players grouped in pairs of twosomes and threesomes and compete head-to-head in scrambles-style match play against corresponding groups from another team across nine holes. Scoring is similar to golf’s Ryder Cup, with points earned for winning (one point or flag), or tying (a half point) three-hole segments (as opposed to an 18-hole match in Ryder Cup) of each nine-hole match, making 12 possible points to be shared.
The key for the coach is blending his players into the most competitive combinations.
“There is a lot of strategy on who to pair with whom, and how to pair their strengths and weaknesses,” Alexander said. “It’s not just who is a longer driver and who has the better short game. It’s about matching up their personalities as well.”
The Pooles, twin sons of ex-PGA pro Jim Poole, play as one twosome, and are arguably the team’s strongest pairing. The other twosome features Lilly, a “perfectionist” according to Alexander, and lone female Stiener, who blends perfectly with her calm demeanor and focus.
Nickol plays in a rotating trio with Riverside’s Fujita and Krusynski. Manning, Miller, and Short are the other trio.
The combinations have been working as the locals have been consistently winning in convincing fashion. All three matches won in Chicago duals came by 8-4 scores, including a win over the defending regional winning team representing Noblesville.
Competition promises to get tougher when they next compete with regional winners from Connecticut, West Virginia, Florida, Dallas, and Sacramento.
“We played and beat some teams that were in the National Finals last year,” Alexander said. “We’ve heard there are some teams out there that are unbelievably good, shooting six or seven under across nine holes. We’ve been under the anticipation that we will run into a team who can put it to us, but we’ve not seen it yet.”
The team is planning at least one fundraiser to ease the cost of attending Nationals. Direct contributions supporting the team may be made by contacting Alexander or Weaver at the Prestwick Golf Shop by calling 745-6448.