Sylvan Lake product Carter Graf, who golfs out of Red Deer Golf and Country Club, won the Alberta Junior Championship on Friday at Highwoods Golf and Country Club in High River. (Contributed Photo)

Sylvan Lake’s Carter Graf wins Alberta Junior Championship

Lacombe’s Brady McKinlay finishes third

Carter Graf had to scratch and claw to be the last man standing at the Alberta Junior Championships.

After a five-over-par 75 in the third round, Graf needed to muster everything in his arsenal to hold off challengers and earn the title.

He did just that, firing a one-over 71 in the final round on a gloomy day at Highwoods Golf and Country Club, earning the junior boys championship with a one-stroke victory over Ethan de Graaf of Calgary.

The Sylvan Lake product’s win made it the second year in a row the title heads back to Central Alberta, after Chandler McDowell of Springbrook earned the victory in 2018.

The two have played golf together since they were 12 and after McDowell’s win last year, with Graf standing close by, he pondered the possibility of his time coming next.

“I’ve been playing the tournament for five years now and whenever the guys win, I was always like ‘man, I want to be there someday’ so, it’s really exciting to get the job done,” Graf said.

“Especially after my good friend Max Sekulic won at Coal Creek in 2017 and then Chandler (McDowell) in 2018 at Sundre. So to get it done after my two friends and to have that between us is pretty fun.”

Graf, 18, finished the 72-hole event this year at one-under-par and was the only player in red numbers. He let out on an exuberant yell to go along with a Tiger Woods-like fist pump when his par putt dropped on the 18th hole.

“It was a nerve-racking putt. It was pretty easy, pretty straight but still, it was a big putt,” said an elated Graf post round.

“It was a mental grind for sure. Just to keep on telling myself to stay patient and my mental coach has helped me a ton with trying to keep my mental game in the right spot. I knew I was hitting the ball well and I knew I had played some good golf over the week. I just had to stay patient and let it come to me and it did.”

Heading into the final round, Graf held a narrow two-shot lead over Lacombe’s Brady McKinlay. Graf finished three over on the front nine and had lost his lead.

After a birdie on the 11th hole, each of Graf, McKinlay and de Graaf were tied at even-par. Graf buried back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th hole to pull out in front again but slipped back to one up with a bogey on the 15th. De Graaf bogeyed 18 to open the door for Graf, who scrambled for par on 17.

“I really tried to stay patient and tried to stay one shot at a time, I ended up playing 11, 12, and 13 really good. Made three birdies in a row. That vaulted me back to the top,” he said.

“After that just a lot of stressful par saves. On 17 made an eight-footer for par to keep me in the lead. On 18, I made a four-footer for par to seal the deal.”

Early in the week, it looked like Graf’s tournament to lose. He was lights out in the opening round with eight birdies. After 36 holes, he had a three-shot lead with a second round of four-under-par. In the third round, under sub-optimal conditions with steady rain, he shot five-over-par. That was the moment where he really felt tested.

“The first two rounds I played really great. Made some really good putts and good wedge shots,” Graf said.

“The third round I didn’t play well in the rain. So I went to the range after the round in the rain and worked on (my game) and found something for (Friday) and it really started to click on the back nine.”

With the win, Graf earned a spot at the 2019 Canadian Junior Boys Championship and is also one of three players on the Alberta Interprovincial team. Graf will be joined by de Graaf and McKinlay, who finished third on that team.

Carter’s younger brother Logan also had a strong tournament, finishing in a tie for 18th. He was one-under in the final round and had a four day total of 297, tied with Red Deer’s Cole Bergheim.

Alex Gerrard of Red Deer finished in a tie for 28th at 24-over-par for the week.

Joe Kelly of Innisfail finished in a tie for 31st after an eight-over in the final round.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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