It’s always great to return to Eagle Ridge GC with Highlander Tour. GM Dale Smauder has been a great friend and supporter to us right from the beginning and, despite the fact we are always going to be adding new venues each season, Eagle Ridge does feel like our home venue.

That said we can all sometimes overlook how good Eagle Ridge can be too!  I can’t think of anywhere else within easy driving distance that boasts 4…yes 4 distinctly different 9 hole layouts that are kept in good shape all year round! This gives us a lot of flexibility and makes our, normally monthly, visits adaptable and always challenging for players of all abilities.

At this time of year we are always faced with the possibility of poor weather. Rain, impending storms and high winds can all force delays or even cancellations to tournaments. So far this year we’ve had good luck with only one reasonably short delay, last week at Harbor Hills CC, and NO tournament cancellations. We pray this continues through the next couple of months as we want to keep bringing you all opportunities to play regularly though please always bear in mind that player safety is always our top priority.

On this occasion we were playing The Champions and Memorial rotation of 9’s at Eagle Ridge.

Here’s how some of the action unfolded.

The Old Tom Morris Flight:

 

This one was hotly contested by our 16 and 17 year old players. We have so many strong players in this age group and today 3 of them, playing together, made it memorable for those of us lucky enough to watch the action unfold and , not surprisingly, it went all the way to a dramatic conclusion on the final green!

It’s interesting to note that each of these players, in our view,  is at a similar stage of development in their golf journey. Each of them have been occasional winners previously, both with us and elsewhere, but interestingly all 3 have slowly developed into really strong, and VERY experienced competitors. Each of them knows only too well that competing alongside other good players requires not only strong ability but also patience, perseverance and some good luck too!

EJ Maupin (Lake Mary) has found form and confidence at just the right time! It’s true to say that EJ was always a player to watch as he has all the traits required to be a really fine player. Lately he’s found more consistency and looks to be ready to take his game to the next level, his competition scoring has improved significantly and he’s now showing regularly that, if his hard work continues, he’s on track to have a great year on the golf course!

EJ started this one really well. His form of the last few weeks continued and he got off to a real flyer, birdie at 1 was followed by another at 3 and a third at 5!! His driving accuracy and short game were big factors all day. He made Par at 2,6 and 7 and kept his losses to single figure bogey errors too which all helped EJ to record a very impressive level par 36 over those nine opening holes. EJ was the only player in the field to achieve level par or lower on the opening 9 holes and it gave him a well deserved halfway leaderboard top spot.

Caden Fockler (Ocala) is a regular and long standing junior we know well who was returning to play with us after a few months absence. Often when this occurs it’s due to other factors like playing other sports (??) or sometimes, in extreme cases, a short term fall out of love with golf! It happens BUT trust me that’s not Caden, he’s been out there challenging himself to improve, playing some club and even some amateur (adult) events and working hard on his game. We are delighted to see him back with us and playing well and we are watching closely as, just like EJ, he’s starting to show some great signs of taking things to the next level in 2021.

Caden’s an intelligent and experienced junior competitor. He understands that consistency doesn’t come easy and it starts by making par. He kept pace with his playing partners on this one by making par on 6 of the opening 9 holes and did a good job of ensuring anything given back to the course on the remaining holes was nothing worse than a single shot bogey! At the turn Caden recorded a +3 (39) to sit only 3 off the halfway lead.

Drew Miller (Seminole HS) is usually in and around the top end of our tournament leaderboards, a medal winner already with us this year at Mission Inn, Drew has got a really strong game and he’s a fierce competitor who’s experienced enough to know that things can change REALLY quickly in competition regardless of whether you hold the lead or you are chasing it! As the day went on Drew grew in stature and just got better and better, his front nine holes +4(40) had him record par on 3 occasions and a very welcome birdie was secured at 3. Important to note though that when shots were dropped they were nothing worse than bogey, take note everyone, even if you’re not at your very best keeping those dropped shots to singles certainly helps to keep you in golf tournaments!

This one was going to be about who could best handle the back 9 finishing holes of Eagle Ridge’s Memorial Course.

Caden, I feel sure, would have a plan and most likely knew already exactly what he had to do to end the day as our low scorer. A par start at 10 was good, an unfortunate dropped shot at 11 was not but it was immediately followed by an impressive reset of positive thoughts as he embarked on a very nice run of par holes!  We will rejoin Caden’s round shortly as this one was starting to get exciting to watch!

Drew probably also knew where he sat on the leaderboard as the players made their way to The Memorial Course to begin the closing holes.

I’ve always found it interesting to hear players talk about competition scores while competing and in particular how much, or how little attention, they give to them. I’ve known all kinds, the player who knows exactly what everyone else is doing, the player who checks things occasionally and, believe it or not, the player who finishes on 18 and has no clue he/she has just won! Drew, Caden and EJ playing together in this case I suspect they all had a fair sense of where they each stood!

Drew made bogey at 10!  Not his preferred start but strong and experienced players get it, they know they are going to face setbacks and have to handle them and, as mentioned earlier, they also know things can swing quickly back in their favor if they remain focussed and positive. Drew did just that with a consistent and impressive run which continued all the way to number 18!

EJ’s back 9 began bogey, bogey, bogey. It happens. Conditions were far from perfect and his playing partners were not finding it easy to navigate those early holes either however too many errors would see his lead disintegrate and both Caden and Drew are more than capable of turning things around if given the opportunity! Par at 13 and 14 were helpful but further dropped shots at 15 and 16 definitely changed the whole complexion of the day for EJ AND for Caden and Drew!

By the time they all reached the 17th tee Caden had gone on an impressive and consistent run of 5 pars. Drew had made par on ALL of the last 6 holes! This was becoming one of the most thrilling junior competition encounters we’ve watched for some time! As they stepped onto the tee at 17 all three players were level with each having taken 68 strokes so far to get to this point! Two holes remained to settle this one and we couldn’t take our eyes off these three exceptional young players!

17 is a reasonable distance, dog leg par 5. It’s definitely a birdie opportunity but with the pressure on and the rain getting heavier it’s playing tougher than normal. Of the trio of players EJ got the line and distance right, long off the tee and on the green in 3 giving him best chance of birdie. Drew put himself in contention too making yet another par to keep the pressure on, Caden was first to suffer a setback finding a nasty position over on the left and having to settle for a bogey 6. EJ made his “pressure” putt for a well deserved birdie to lead Drew by one and Caden by two as they made their way to 18.

18 is a narrow par 3 with a mid sized green . Heavy rain now added to the challenge each player faced. EJ, with the honor, hit a sweet iron shot to about 15 feet pin high. Drew just missed the green left ending up on a slope and facing the prospect of a tough greenside chip which he’d most likely need to make. Caden found the forward part of the green from the tee but now faced a long uphill putt to finish. It came up short unfortunately leaving a really tricky 8/10 footer which he left close but couldn’t convert. It was a tough way to finish for Caden but as we know things can change fast in competition golf!

Drew lined up his chip and struck it as well as any shot I’ve seen all day, it was tracking at perfect pace for a birdie that would pile on the pressure on EJ. It finished inches behind the hole…a fantastic effort and so close! I think we all thought that was in …what a great effort it was! It was a tap in par for Drew then leaving EJ with the much easier task of having two putts for the medal win! The young lefty made sure the first one had a chance but it did run past 3 feet…could there be even more drama to come as those little testy putts are not easy under pressure? EJ stepped up, lined it up and confidently dropped it in the cup.

That was VERY special to watch! Three wonderful young players playing out a very special match that had pretty much everything in it. What was also very clear at the end, as they respectfully removed hats and shook hands, was just how respectful and sporting each of these junior players are. We are indeed blessed to have such wonderful players and great families around our tour!

How close was it ?…the scorecards read EJ Maupin 36-39 75, Drew Miller 40 -36- 76 and Caden Fockler 39-38-77.

Well done to all of you and congratulations to EJ Maupin, our Old Tom Morris Flight winner at Eagle Ridge GC. It was a deserved and hard fought win and one I’m certain you cannot help learn something from EJ?  We need to catch our breath after that but as expected EJ was his usual humble and laid back self! He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he’s one of the most genuine kids you could ever hope to meet!  Good job EJ!

 

The Young Tommy Morris Flight:

 

This one also provided us with some exceptional golf and like the earlier mentioned flight from an early stage it could have gone the way of any of the following 2 players who were  within just one shot of each other at the halfway stage. In the end it could not have been any closer between this flight’s two lowest scorers!

Xavier Sahajpal (Ocala GC) is one of our Elite (Claret Jug Flight) players who earned his promotion to the top flight having picked up 4 flight winner medals already this year. At this stage of the year we have promoted 12 Claret Jug players and while it is always our hope that a number of these players will enter each tournament there are occasions where we cannot create a Claret Jug flight of players unless at least two sign up…unfortunately on this occasion this was NOT the case and therefore as a result Xavier was drawn to play in his relevant age based flight.

Xavier has shown us on numerous occasions already just how strong a player he has become. We do recall first meeting him last year and there is no doubt by watching him play now he it’s very clear he has really stepped up a level in terms of his ability and noticeably his confidence too, he’s also a really fine young man who’s respectful to everyone who meets him at our events and we really enjoy watching him play. Xavier started this one slowly by his own high standards with a few dropped shots early on. He did find par on 5 occasions and was finding form at the right time as he moved into the back 9 holes….his front 9 card was a +5 (41)

We have absolutely no doubts that Katie Allen (Fruitland Park) will join our Claret Jug Flight at some point soon. She’s been dedicating all of her sporting efforts to golf for some time and she has shown what can only be described as remarkable progress over the last year. Katie works really hard, listens to advice from others and then gives it her all to put everything into practice. The result is a young player with endless potential that we and many others are very proud of. To put some perspective into this it was not so long ago Katie was averaging three figure scores, now she is closing in on a goal to regularly break 80!

Katie started steadily par-par before dropping a couple of strokes over holes 3 and 4.Like most good players learning the right way she is getting better at putting those negatives behind her and 5 and 6 were made in par. As the turn into the back 9 approached Katie was struggling to find her consistency however she was still able to card a +5(41) to share the halfway lead with Xavier.

For both players this one was going to come down to who could best handle the tricky back 9 at Eagle Ridge.

The early advantage was with Xavier who, despite dropping a shot at 10, recovered well to par both 11 and 12. Katie meanwhile was still battling to find her form and dropped a total of 3 strokes on those same opening holes. Par at 12 was followed by bogey at 13. At 14 things changed for the better for Katie, and in the best possible way, with a birdie at the par 5 14th. Another was to arrive at 17 and both of these contributed to a level par finish over those finishing 5 holes for Katie. After 18 and a bit of a rollercoaster ride of a day for her she ended strong and so very close to her goal, Katie finished the day 41-39-(80)

Xavier did a great job at keeping his card fairly clean for the remainder of those back nine holes. He had the odd error but kept them to nothing worse than bogey and consistently made par everywhere else. He made no fewer than 6 pars on the back nine and, knowing that Katie was recovering well too he kept his composure really well. Not sure if he knew it or not but standing on 18 he needed a par to take the flight medal. I would never bet against Xavier in that scenario and right on cue he delivered to finish the day on 41-38-(79)

Well done to both players for showing great character and wonderful sportsmanship towards each other throughout the day. You are both a credit to our great game and it was wonderful to watch some of this one!

Congratulations to Xavier from everyone at HJT. Another Claret Jug medal for the young man from Ocala which now makes 5 for the season. He’s going to win many more times in future in our view and we could not be happier to see his progression.

 

**IMPORTANT NOTE REGARDING THE ABOVE FLIGHT**

 

After some discussion and following the conclusion of this event we have reached the conclusion that under the unusual circumstances where we added Xavier ( A Claret Jug Player) to this flight we believe it is fair that on this occasion Katie Allen should also be rewarded for her performance.

Xavier has rightfully earned another Claret Jug Medal for his performance and for being lowest scorer. Katie will receive the Young Tommy Morris Flight winner medal for her performance.

We believe it is important that our young players feel challenged during our competition events. Those who perform consistently well and return the lowest score in their flight are awarded with a medal of recognition. After 3 medal wins in any season those players are then promoted to The Claret Jug Flight where they then compete with only those other players who have similarly earned promotion to Claret Jug status. On this occasion and due to the lack of additional players with Claret Jug status Katie was up against one of our top players and performed exceptionally well. However we do believe this placed her at a disadvantage at this stage as she has not yet achieved Claret Jug status.

In addition we also believe our players should see the possibility of gaining promotion to Claret Jug status as a target to aim for. Had Xavier not been placed by us into this flight Katie would have earned a flight winners medal taking her one step closer to this achievement.

With this in mind we are retrospectively presenting Katie Allen with The Young Tommy Morris Flight winner medal for this event in addition to Xavier winning the Claret Jug Medal.

Congratulations Katie on behalf of everyone at Highlander Tour. You did a fantastic job and we look forward to awarding your medal at the next opportunity to do so.

Katie Allen in action. Great job Katie.

The Bobby Jones Flight:

 

The final report of the day concentrates on our “young guns”…on this occasion our 11 and under group who never fail to disappoint with good golf and maximum effort every time they come to play.

Like most flights these are players who are ALL at different levels of development and they all deserve a special mention for coming along and giving their very best over 18 tough holes of golf at Eagle Ridge GC.

First player we’d like to mention is Christopher Wallace from Ocala who joined us only recently and who is working really hard on his game. Christopher is a fine young player and a wonderful young man who is already showing signs of increased confidence during our competitions. In our opinion if he continues to put in the same level of effort as he did in this one at Eagle Ridge GC his scores are really going to start to reflect this, well done Christopher and keep up the good work!

Prior to this competition we had a call from Aayden Higar’s Dad looking for information from us about our competitions. Aayden (8) from Arlington Ridge is young enough to compete in our Wee Highlander 9 hole events but having already played in some US kids events we suggested the best approach to take was to bring him into this 18-hole competition and give him the option of playing with our other Bobby Jones flight players. We also gave him the option of playing 9 holes as this would be his first 18 hole tournament…a BIG ask for an 8 year old!

Aayden did an incredible job, played 18 holes and had great fun doing so alongside our other regular Bobby Jones flight youngsters! In fact guess who was last to leave the venue after the competition ended ? Yes Aayden was still on the putting green of Eagle Ridge GC! Well done young man, full marks for stamina and putting in such great effort in this competition. Clearly Aayden is already a good young player who grew in confidence as the day went on, he actually took no fewer than 6 strokes off his back 9 total when compared to the front 9! Good job Aayden, we hope you enjoyed the experience and we can welcome you back again soon.

Thank you also to Rhett Kirkland aged 10 (Wildwood) and Aiden Skrocki aged 11 (The Villages Golf Academy) for helping Aayden feel welcome at his first HJT event….just watching these youngsters happily chat and support each other is a huge part of what our great game is all about, we are VERY proud of you!

The afore-mentioned Rhett and Aiden are both previous medal winners with us and often when both play its one or the other of these two young golfing friends who leaves with the medal for lowest scorer. Both Aiden and Rhett share quite a few similar qualities, both are excellent young players who already boast a lot of competition experience and both already have good levels of confidence and bags of resilience, its sometimes hard to believe we are talking about a 10 and 11 year old here!

We mention resilience above and that’s the one big thing that sets these two young players apart. Golf IS a tough sport! The way the game is played never changes regardless of age but how many times are we reminded that to be successful and to develop and improve we need to be mentally tough ? As junior players develop their skills and age into teenagers and beyond that mental toughness is demanded more and more, a bad shot, a bad round are all things we need to learn to put behind us and move on. We expect players to quickly forget the bad stuff and regain their confidence to go again, that’s NEVER easy to learn however many of our older players have several years of previous experience to fall back on which does help.

Now imagine being 10 or 11 and needing that same mental toughness to keep on working hard in the hope that if you do everything will get easier over time? It’s a HUGE ask and that’s why we are full of admiration for our youngest players who turn out regularly to play in these competitions, Rhett and Aiden are great examples of that and we love to watch their development.

On this occasion neither Rhett or Aiden played their very best over the opening 9 holes. Both dropped shots early on however it was Rhett who got the better breaks with birdies on 4 and 6. Aiden kept things as close as possible by keeping most of his dropped shots down to single strokes and at 9 they were both level at the top of the flight leaderboard having both shot 46.

The back 9 was going to settle this one and Aiden and Rhett were both frustrated in those opening holes as they both found par hard to achieve. One thing you quickly learn about these two players is they will not give up on effort even when things are not going their way, as long as there are still holes to play they are going to give their best and once again that was the case.

It was Rhett who took a slight advantage making a run of 3 pars from 12. Aiden almost matched him with two of his own over those holes. Unfortunately though Aiden was unable to keep the run going and the pressure on. The turning point for this one was an unfortunate 3 shot drop at 16 for Aiden. At the time this was happening Rhett was playing consistently by finding par and keeping errors down to single stroke losses.

After the closing 9 was complete it was Rhett who would finish strongest to take the lowest score and the Bobby Jones Flight medal with a scorecard of 46-41 -(87) Its not easy to take 5 strokes off your front nine on this course and today that was the difference between these two strong young players. Aiden showed all the courage and perseverance we’ve come to expect of him and he will be back stronger and more confident next time, we know that.

Rhett once again showed his quality and determination by working his way around the golf course and continually seeking his best form. He found it on the back 9 and that’s what proved to be the difference today!

Congratulations from everyone at HJT Rhett on another medal win.

 

Good job Rhett. A deserved Bobby Jones Flight Medal win for the Wildwood youngster!

Nearest The Pin Winner Best shot of the Day:

 

On Saturday it was Drew Miller (Seminole HS) who came so close to making it a double win finishing just one back of EJ Maupin with a polished 76 in The Old Tom Morris Flight. He did leave with the prize for hitting the shot of the day in our nearest the pin competition. Good job Drew!

Great shot Drew. Well played!

The Player Scores:

 

Finally we would like to take this opportunity to thank Dale Smauder GM at Eagle Ridge GC for hosting us and the staff there for their usual excellent support and for keeping the course in such great shape.

Thank you to our Tour Sponsor – Todd and Melissa Coon of TCL (Tri-County Landscapes) for your amazing support of junior golf in our community. We could not do what we do without your help.

                Thank you to our sponsor.

We look forward to seeing you all soon. Check out our upcoming competitions by clicking HERE

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