June 23rd, 2024

Juniors excited for nationals

By Sean Rooney on July 27, 2018.

Ryan Hodgins putts on the 16th green at Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club Thursday, July 26, 2018 with fellow juniors Caleb Kinch (left) and Nolan Burzminski looking on during a practice round. Hodgins and Kinch will play in the Canadian junior boys championship which starts Monday, while Burzminski is volunteering.


Nolan Burzminski makes a tiny adjustment to his grip and suddenly he’s bombing his driver further than his playing partners.

But on the second shot at Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club’s long 15th hole Thursday, Ryan Hodgins sticks his approach to within five feet, and he lets Burzminski and Caleb Kinch know about it.

It’s all fun ribbing for now, but when the first round of the Canadian Junior Boys Golf Championship tees up Monday, they know it’ll be more serious.

“I just love the competition, I like the pressure too,” says the 16-year-old Hodgins, who won the Alberta juvenile title a few weeks ago and automatically qualified for nationals. “There will be a lot of low scores.”

Kinch, 17, didn’t place well enough at provincials but benefitted from Hodgins’ great showing. Hodgins had originally won the local event to secure the host berth, but once he qualified through provincials, that went to Kinch.

Burzminski, meanwhile, is among the 121 volunteers helping to make the event a success. A couple more precision adjustments and he could be the one going for gold.

The trio know they’re pushing each other to be better all the time.

“We’re all good golfers, we’re always trying to beat each other, don’t want to lose,” says Kinch. “You try to win the day.”

With remarkably consistent shotmaking regardless of their age and hundreds of rounds of experience on the course that will decide a national junior champion by next Thursday afternoon, there’s no doubt there will be a home course advantage. Hodgins figures it could be worth a couple strokes per round, mainly on the greens where superintendent Mark Begin says little has been changed from what members normally experience during the summer.

“Straightness is going to be really important, because the rough is going to be super thick,” says Hodgins, fresh off playing Torrey Pines at the IMG Academy Junior World Championships two weeks ago in California. “If you’re coming out of the rough it’s going to be tough to keep it on the green.”

What Begin and his crew have done is let the rough flourish, restrict cart usage to allow fairways to firm up and work extra hours ensuring every blade of grass is how they want it for the 156 competitors. After two rounds that number will be cut down for Wednesday and Thursday’s final 36 holes.

“The biggest difference the players are going to see is the height of the rough — we’ll stop cutting rough on Saturday, so by the time Thursday comes around they’re going to see some pretty deep stuff,” says Begin. “We have a pretty tight, tree-lined golf course already so when you start throwing up the fairways a little bit, it makes good tee shots a premium.”

On this day, some of those changes are more evident. It’s harder to find a ball in the thicker rough and Hodgins — who’s left-handed — practices hitting driver off the 18th tee, where the dogleg left plays to his cut shot perfectly. With firmer fairways it’s easier to hit through the dogleg, however, which could make for some hairy situations if players aren’t careful.

Hodgins says Alberta junior champ Chandler McDowell will be among those to watch at nationals, but he also doesn’t know many out-of-province players. A couple are already in town and getting in practice rounds.

Golf Canada’s tournament preview press release notes Quebec’s Christopher Vandette, Ontario’s Cam Kellett and Matthew Anderson, B.C.’s Nolan Thoroughgood and Pincher Creek’s Ethan Choi as ones to watch. Vandette won the juvenile (16-under) title last year.

The 80th edition of the junior championships also includes an interprovincial team title, won by Alberta in 2017.

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