KINGSTON, Mass. – Jack O’Donnell was thirsty for his first victory of 2017 and the prospect of returning to Indian Pond Country Club for the Golfweek New England Junior Open seemed as bright as any.
Memories of what happened in the 2016 event at the same course have left him wondering if he let one slip away, but also fueled a greater confidence in his chances of winning this time around. In the 2016 version, O’Donnell was penalized two strokes in the first round for playing a wrong ball – a mistake that proved especially costly since he lost by two shots to Andrew DiPetrillo.
“I was confident coming in because I had played well here before,” said O’Donnell, a resident of Cohasset, Mass., and a student at Boston College High School. “This year definitely started out a little slow – I haven’t been hitting it great, but I’ve been putting well. So I figured it out this week, started hitting better shots and hitting more greens.”
O’Donnell figured he only missed three greens in regulation over the two rounds and that helped him to scores of 71-70—141, a 3-under-par total that gave him the title two shots ahead of Danel Yam.
Yam, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., applied pressure on O’Donnell throughout the day, but was never able to catch him. A 30-foot eagle at the eighth provided a huge spark, but was quickly dampened when O’Donnell dropped a 20-footer for birdie right behind him.
The competition was tense, but O’Donnell and his group that included DiPetrillo certainly didn’t let on as such.
“We all played together in the first round and I’ve known (Yam) from before so it was a lot of fun,” O’Donnell said. “We were all having fun – we kept it loose.”
Perhaps a bit too loose when the whole group had trouble at the ninth. O’Donnell missed the green left and Yam caught a flyer from the rough and flew the green by nearly 15 yards. A botched flop attempt by O’Donnell resulted in a double bogey, but Yam failed to capitalize, making bogey from behind the green.
“We all had momentum going into that (ninth hole),” O’Donnell said. “That was a killer because I was playing really well before that, but I knew we had 10, 11, 12 and 13 coming up and they’re all birdie holes in my opinion. So it was easy to settle myself down.”
O’Donnell rebounded from the double bogey at the ninth with a routine pars at 10, 11 and 12 followed by a birdie at 13, keeping him still one shot ahead of Yam. At 15, O’Donnell needed to sink a crucial 15-footer for par to maintain that lead and he calmly came through. When he sank a short birdie putt at the final hole, the victory was sealed.
“This was my first win of the year, so it was good to get over the hump before school starts.”
O’Donnell will travel to Orlando next week for an AJGA event before returning back home for the Mass Junior played at The Orchards.
Yam shot 74-69—143 for sole possession of second place while DiPetrillo took third at 73-73—146.
In the girls division, Jessie Kweon rolled in a pressure-filled par putt on the last hole to win and did so without feeling that pressure.
Having stretched a 2-shot lead from the first round to as much as six over her playing opponents by the time they reached the closing nine, Kweon seemed in total control heading down the stretch.
But 14-year-old Bailey Davis had other designs. Playing in the group ahead, Davis rallied with a torrid closing-nine 31 that included four straight birdies at one point and another at the last for a 3-under-par 69. That gave her a two-day total of 1-over-par 145 and put some serious heat on Kweon.
Just one shot ahead and needed only to 2-putt from a short distance on the last hole for the victory, Kweon ran her birdie putt 6 feet past to create some drama she herself did not feel.
“I didn’t know (Davis’ score), so I didn’t feel any pressure,” said Kweon, a resident of Little Neck, N.Y. “I guess that was good.”
Kweon rolled in the putt in routine fashion, much as she had many others before this week at Indian Pond. She finished at 69-75—144 as the only player in the field to match par.
“I haven’t been putting well, so I’ve been working on that lately,” Kweon said. “It’s mainly just focusing more on the putts. I gained a lot of confidence in my putting at this tournament.”
The turning point in Tuesday’s final round came at the par-5 eighth hole. A 2-over-par and seeing the round possibly fade along with her playing partners Josie Baker and Annie Sun, Kweon faced a nasty 12-footer for birdie over and down a steep slope.
Her new focus paid off and Kweon sank the birdie and kept her opponents at bay.
“Making that putt gave me confidence the rest of the round.”
Davis, winner of last year’s Golfweek Southeast Junior Invitational, finished alone in second at 76-69—145 while Baker held the third-place position at 73-76—149. Sun, in second after the first round, finished at 71-81—152 and tid for fourth place with Winnie McCabe (75-77—152).
For their victories, both O’Donnell and Kweon earn spots in the field for the prestigious Golfweek International Junior Invitational Nov. 4-5 in Florida.
The next event in the Golfweek Junior Tournament Series will be the Golfweek Southeast Junior Team Challenge Sept. 9-10 at Litchfield Country Club in Pawleys Island, S.C.