Most golfers will play the sport for a lifetime and never shoot a hole-in-one.
Jared Nicolls sank his first to win the 2014 McLennan Ross Junior Golf Tour Championship. The Ponoka golfer on his home course — Wolf Creek Golf Resort’s Old Course — trailed Calgary’s A.J. Armstrong by one shot heading into the Par 3 7th hole with three holes to go — they started the one-day tournament on Hole 10.
Armstrong, who finished fourth at the Canada Golf Junior Championships in Niagara Falls, Ont., played a safe shot to the middle of the green. Nicolls, 17, was admittedly in between three clubs for the 131-yard par-3, sided with a 50-degree-wedge, landed short of the pin tucked behind the green-side bunker on the left side of the green and rolled it in.
He didn’t see it drop, he just heard the group ahead of him roar.
“I was aiming for a nice high draw at the middle of the green to try and make a birdie and I pulled it a bit, right on line with the pin. Sure enough I hear a bunch of cheers at the green,” he said. “We just high-fived on the tee box … but I tried to stay calm. I knew I had two holes left to finish it off.”
The ace gave him a one-shot lead over Armstrong who tied Nicolls on the eighth hole, but Nicolls drained a 66-foot putt on the ninth and final hole for the victory one-shot victory, shooting a 2-under-69 — Armstrong finished at 1-under-70 and Brandan Lyster of Mannville at even-par-71. Sylvan Lake Golf and Country Club’s Jaxon Lynn fifth at 5-over-76. Also in the 95-97 junior boys division, Lacombe’s Jordan Rietze finished with an 80 and Red Deer Golf and Country Club’s Logan Hill finished with an 81.
The putt to win was one Nicolls has rehearsed a thousand times before while waiting for his parents to pick him up from Wolf Creek.
The ninth hole is the closest to the parking lot and so he would drop a ball and practice his stroke.
“We walked over there and hit that putt a million times. I knew it was a big right-to-left sling,” he said. “When you get tournament speed greens at Wolf, it’s tougher, so you just have to adapt as best you can. I knew if I could find the speed, my line was going to be real close and lucky enough it caught the back of the hole and it dropped — I was fist pumping, I was real happy to see that go down.”
The win is huge for the Ponoka golfer, who previously won the McLennan Ross stop at the Ponoka Golf and Country Club on July 14 and then the Camrose Golf Club stop on July 17. But this one meant a little more as the Ponoka High School grad and athlete of the year is busy looking for a NCAA scholarship for 2015.
“To win such a big event like this looks great for my resume, I’ve got one more year of junior golf so I’ll see where it takes me from here,” said Nicolls, who has been on the tour for five years.
Lynn was also in the same group with Nicolls, Armstrong and Lyster and was in contention until the final hole when a triple bogey on nine ended his hopes of a podium finish.
Still it was solid end of the summer season for the Sylvan Lake golfer on a challenging course.
“I putted really well but I didn’t hit my irons too well,” he said. “You always go to try and win, but to come out with a top five is not too bad.”
Lynn is now focused on the high school season with a provincial qualifying tournament at Alberta Springs in Sylvan Lake on Sept. 15.
The girls’ division was a little less dramatic, but at the end of the defending champion Kenna Hughes from Calgary was left standing with her second-straight tour championship with a 7-over-78. Jaclyn Lee and Annabelle Ackroyd both from Calgary were one shot back at 8-over-79.
“I definitely had some more competition this year, so it means a little bit more this year to win again,” said Hughes, 16.
Balmoral’s Clare McMahon shot an 89, but still captured the Srixon Order of Merit title with 695 points. Alicia Easthrope of Edmonton was second in the points race with 415.
Tour director Duncan Mills says the girls division is growing in both strength and numbers.
“We had lots more junior girls this year, some younger players that I hadn’t seen before, they’re developing and coming out,” said Mills. “Clare played a lot, she played very well throughout the year.”
Also in the girl’s division, Ponoka’s Shaye Leidenius finished with an 85 while her twin sister Daria shot an 89. Innisfail’s Courtney Dixon finished with a 93.
The tour is a major cog in the development process for Alberta Golf with many golfers earning scholarships to colleges and universities and eventually going pro. This year there were 25 stops on the tour through two months of play.
“We’re trying to give these kids opportunities to learn the game, learn to play competitively, learn to play under pressure and the social aspect is important too,” said Mills. “These kids can come out meet, new friends and play different courses around the province. it’s not like playing with dad or your regular buddies, it’s competitive golf. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Ponoka or Lacombe Junior Open or the Canadian Junior, you’ve got to play under pressure.”
The boy’s 98-99 title went to Calgary’s Alex Smith who shot a 74, while Lethbridge’s Drew Harvie was in at 78. Rocky Mountain House’s Brandon Maxwell finished with an 85 and Balmoral’s Jordan Williamson shot a 92.
RDGCC’s Carter Graf was second in the U-14 boy’s division, firing an 84, three shots back of Pincher Creek’s Ethan Choi at 81. Stettler’s Sam Hamelin shot an 85, Lacombe’s Chase Broderson shot a 91, Innisfail’s Tyler Watt a 92 and Stettler’s Johan Bouwer a 107.