Rice, Porch overcome odds for GW titles
The Golfweek Junior Tour Championship hardly provided the ideal setting for those who would eventually claim its titles.
For Katherine Rice, playing outside her friendly confines of Oxnard, Calif., had always been a difficult task and with this event taking place in Scottsdale, Ariz., it was only natural for her confidence to be shaky.
For Ryan Porch, the event came after three months of being holed up in snowy Montana with very little golf under his belt.
But Rice and Porch both overcame any odds or personal demons that may have stood in their way in winning titles at McCormick Ranch Golf Club.
Golfweek Junior Tour: Tournament of Champions
Rice fired rounds of 76-75 to outlast Taylor Buck by four shots in winning on her only attempt this season on the Golfweek Junior Tour.
Porch, playing out of the Boys 14-15 age division, topped the field with rounds of 70-75, three shots ahead of Josh Gardella, Austin Stadeli and Matthew Liringis (medalist in the Boys 16-19 division).
“I’ve played good locally,” Rice said, “but I’ve had disappointing performances outside of my area; so winning in Arizona is pretty cool.”
Rice’s first-round 76 gave her a two-shot lead over Buck heading into Sunday’s final round. At the ninth hole, Rice chipped in for birdie to stretch the lead to four shots heading into the back nine.
A two-shot swing in Buck’s favor at the 10th closed the gap to two but she would get no closer following Rice’s birdie at the 12th and Buck’s double bogey at the 15th.
“Winning away from home was fun,” Rice said. “It’s kind of like breaking out of my shell; I just feel more comfortable now (playing away from home).
“I never played these courses before so it was an advantage to an extent because I had no idea where the trouble was, so I just went and hit shots.”
The victory was a culmination of a grand transformation for Rice, who said she once lacked the killer instinct to play with and beat a good field of players.
“I’ve changed a lot in the past year,” Rice said. “Last year I was so scared to play with good players, I would fold pretty bad. But now I think I’ve changed that around; I think it showed in this tournament that I can handle the pressure because there was a lot of pressure out there, especially with Taylor making some pretty good putts.”
Porch, coming off a long layover from golf, set his expectations none too high as a result, but he proved early in the tournament he was going to be hard to handle. His opening-round 2-under-par 70 included a run of four birdies in five holes on the back nine. He grabbed the lead and never let go over the two days, closing with a steady 75 in which he turned to the back nine even-par and nursing a six-shot lead.
“I haven’t really practiced golf that much in three months because I live in Montana,” Porch said. “The last time I played was about a month ago; I was hoping for just a top five (finish) in my age division, so it’s really nice to win it all.”
The lack of practice only temporarily set Porch back, as he proved this weekend. It’s something he’s learned to cope with.
“I know that I can definitely compete with these guys even if I don’t get year-round golf like they do,” Porch said. “You really get used to it after a while. I actually get my swing back after two or three days. Every now and then I go to an indoor range and hit balls, but it’s not that often.”
After Porch carded bogey and double bogey at the 14th and 15th holes, respectively, the lead was down to just three over Gardella, but he sealed the victory with a birdie at the 17th.
Liringis, who opened his final round birdies on the first two holes, saw his downfall on the par-5 holes, where twice he hit balls in the water to take bogey.
“My whole goal was to make pars today,” Porch said. “I knew Austin could go low so I was just trying to make pars mainly then take the birdies when they come.
“Off the tee I struggled; I probably hit only six fairways (in regulation) all week. My short game was good and I got up and down (for par) a lot.”
By winning this week, both Rice and Porch were extended invitations to the Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational Jan. 15-16 at Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale.