Our second visit of the year to the ever impressive venue of Harbor Hills Country Club in Lady Lake on Saturday 26th June was eventful!
At this time of year, and as the temperatures and the humidity increase, we always run the risk of being caught out by the weather. Tournament numbers for this one were certainly down on previous weeks and clearly some of our young players (or perhaps their parents?) made their decision not to play as the forecast did indicate there was a risk of an early afternoon storm incoming.
I think it’s worth pointing out one thing right from the start. I’ve never in all my years in golf met anyone who says they actually prefer to play in the rain! It’s not fun and if possible should be avoided however living where we do it’s also fair to say that at times it’s inevitable!
From our perspective as tournament hosts our priority is ALWAYS going to be player safety and while we can’t do much about helping you play better in the rain we can certainly ensure that we have a plan in place to keep everyone safe when that rain shower turns into something nastier…in this case a full blown torrential storm with some pretty spectacular lightning!
Two groups had already left the tee when we took the decision to suspend play. Luckily though everyone was still in very close proximity to the clubhouse and could return there quickly. We remained for 75 minutes until it was deemed safe to return to the course and for the rest of the day we saw nothing more than one or two very light showers.
Harbor Hills is always in excellent shape when we visit and although it’s fair to assume fairways wouldn’t be rolling much after the downpour our players handled the conditions really well with almost half of the player field shooting 80 or less.
Thank you everyone for your patience, we certainly think it turned out to be another great day of golf despite that delay.
One other quick point to make here. I read often about golf tournaments (including some junior events) where pace of play is described as excruciatingly slow! Saturday at HH was the extreme opposite of that!
Our lead group, and the group immediately behind, both completed 18 holes, while still playing at a very high standard, in just under 3 hours and none of our players took more than 3hrs 30 minutes to play! Well done everyone, no one likes slow play and playing quickly and efficiently really is one of the best golfing habits you can learn!
So, onto scoring and on Saturday we had 4 flights.
The Highlander Alumni Flight
This was our second competition for our Alumni Tour players who are all now college graduates and/or in the age range of 18/21.
Our Alumni Tour was established recently in order to give our most senior players ongoing opportunities to continue their development by playing competitive tournament golf alongside similar age players.
Three of our Alumni players showed all their experience to produce some really solid golf and, especially given the weather delays and early soggy conditions over the front nine holes they each played extremely well.
It was very fitting that our top medal winner and Champion Golfer of 2020 Nick Zarillo (Mike Bender Golf Academy) struck the first ball last week in our newly formed Alumni Tour. It was no surprise to most in attendance that Nick also took that first Alumni medal home with him, he’s now become an advanced junior player who’s on the verge of competing at the next level as college golf beckons him. Until then though, one thing is for sure, if Nick is in the field he’s playing to win!
Tiana Eldem hasn’t played with us for long but in the short time we’ve known the young lady from Ocala we have been extremely impressed on so many occasions by the ability she brings to our tournament events. She has an athletic presence and the strength that’s become a requirement of all young players hoping to progress their game nowadays. Just as important though is the personality behind the player and Tiana certainly has the temperament and intelligence required of any top player hoping to play at a high level. She plays in a calm and measured fashion and it’s great to watch her plot her way around a challenging golf course.
Michael Lis-Planells has already made the step up and away from Junior Golf. Heading into his final year of college at Ave Maria University in South Florida he’s taking the opportunity to play as much competitive golf as he can before heading back there for the start of an important final year of education.
In the early stages of this one it was impossible to separate any of the 3 above-mentioned alumni players. Nick posted a 38 for the front 9 holes with highlights being birdies at 3 and 6. Both Tiana and Michael, who had two birdies of his own at 2 and 8 sat just one off the early lead both posting 39.
The back 9 holes of Harbor Hills are tougher…FACT! Michael was first to experience some early disappointment with the first 4 holes on closing 9 proving difficult…unfortunately those early dropped shots left him out of contention and although he battled hard to find his best form again it was just too much on this occasion. Michael carded a 39-46-85.
Tiana kept it pretty consistent all day. A very welcome birdie on 13 was a highlight of a round that brought her par on 10 occasions. Errors were kept to a minimum with nothing worse than bogey and when the early conditions we endured are factored in her scorecard of 39-39-78 was fairly impressive. Question is would it be enough to take the medal ?
Nick knows Harbor Hills well. I don’t think he did before playing regularly with us but he certainly does now! He’s enjoyed some great moments here and it will always be the venue where we handed him our 2020 Claret Jug award after a battling final round performance and then a 3 hole, 3 player play off!
On Saturday he gave us all another reminder of where his game is right now. Birdie 3 came at 10 to give him the best possible start. Another would follow at 14! Everything else was steady and measured, it wasn’t flawless but it was close. Nick was our only player in the field to card level par(36) on those closing holes to card a 38-36-74 and once again take a Highlander medal home with him! Great finishing Nick…congratulations on another fine example of strong and confident finishing!
The Claret Jug Flight
This one came down to which of the following two players was going to best cope with the difficulty of the final 9 closing holes of Harbor Hills CC!
Elle Folland (The Villages HS) is working hard on her competition game right now and her playing profile has really ramped up as she takes opportunities to compete in as many ranked events as she can. As she moves into her Senior HS year it’s a really important one for any player who hopes that golf will form part of her future career path. We know Elle very well indeed and we are confident she already has all the tools required to achieve the goals in the game she will set herself…we are delighted to have her with us as often as possible as she really is an excellent role model for many of our younger female players who may be hoping to follow in her footsteps.
Elle was arguably in the group most disrupted by the rain delay! Having played two good holes to par before being called back to the clubhouse it’s never easy to recreate that rhythm immediately you return to the course. Conditions have changed and if you’ve started well you may well feel a little more pressure to get back to that same level fast! Elle gave back 3 shots on her first hole (number 3) back out on the course after the rain delay which was a tough one to take however, what we do know about Elle, is she has huge experience and bags of perseverance and we’ve seen on many occasions just how quickly she can turn a setback into a positive.
Elle played the next 6 holes in +1 and that included a birdie at 7 to get her round right back on track. Her front nine total was +4 (40)
Braden Hawkins (Clermont) made his way to Claret Jug player status (3 medal wins) quickly at the start of 2021 playing some exceptional golf along the way. He is a fine young player who is always composed and seldom appears to outwardly display the emotions this game can stir in us all when setbacks come along, in other words Braden does seem to have the ideal temperament to play strong and competitive golf. Incidentally don’t confuse that and think that means he doesn’t care about his score or performance, he VERY much does and he works as hard as any young player we know to always give it his best shot!
Braden started steadily before dropping 3 shots over 3 holes. He does however have the experience to deal with setbacks and quickly got back to steady level par golf before the end of the front 9 holes. At the turn Braden had joined Elle on the Claret Jug flight halfway point leaderboard on a +4(40) This one was going to be decided by which of these accomplished young players was going to go lowest on those tough back 9 holes.
Elle made par on 10 before dropping costly shots on the next two holes. The following 3 holes brought her hope that she’d once again found her form going par-par-birdie but on this occasion it wasn’t to be as errors at 16 and 17 followed. A par finish on the tough 18th showed character to finish on a positive. Elle recorded a 40-42 -82.
Braden started the closing holes par-par before giving two shots back on the 12th. He made amends over the next 3 holes going par-birdie-par and although each of the tough last 3 holes saw shots dropped he did keep his losses to single shot errors to finish on 40-40-80. This would be enough to secure Braden another Claret Jug medal win by two strokes.
I always find it interesting how good players react when they pick up a medal but are clearly disappointed with their score and feel they should have done better. I believe it’s unique to golf and it does highlight one key thing. First and foremost good players only become such by demanding the best from themselves each time they play and if they don’t achieve what they set out to they are going to be disappointed, this was the case with Braden. For me it shows he cares and that very much IS a good thing!
Congratulations Braden on another medal success.
The Old Tom Morris Flight
This flight threw up a great pairing of two young men playing together. Even early on in the day it was apparently clear our lowest scorer in the flight was going to be either Will Giger (Gateway HS) or AJ Burns (Hernando)
AJ Burns set the early pace for this one with a very impressive front 9 total of +1(37) to lead the flight after 9. His highlights were many and included birdies at 2 and 5 and par on 4 of those opening holes. What was equally pleasing was the fact he kept any dropped shot holes down to nothing worse than single shot losses. We are delighted to say this was a real pleasure to watch and some of the best and most consistent golf we’ve seen from AJ this year.
Will Giger is another great example of a young talented player who works really hard during competition rounds and who’s desperately seeking the consistency that in turn will give him the confidence to advance to the next level of scoring. He was doing a good job in this one playing alongside AJ and keeping pace with him over those important front 9 holes. Will, s front nine consisted of 6 pars and a birdie of his own at 7 to place him just one behind AJ on our halfway stage leaderboard. Once more it was going to be decided by who could best handle the challenging closing 9 holes of Harbor Hills CC!
AJ kept his fine form going through 10 and 11 making par on each. The par 5 12th threw him a tough break and resulted in 3 shots lost however one thing you can be certain of with AJ is he’s not going to allow a single hole setback to overly prey on his mind. He was quickly back to his best and the following 4 holes were played in an impressive +1. Unfortunately, as many of us who have watched or played golf know only too well, until that final putt drops on 18 it’s never over and 17 and 18 were to prove AJ’s undoing as both were costly. AJ finished the day 37-46-83. It was disappointing to watch BUT let’s put this into perspective, AJ had 3 BAD holes on the back 9 that adversely affected his scorecard! On a positive note it was great to see him at his very best and it should provide AJ with a huge confidence boost as he’s very much on the right track with his game!
Will’s closing 9 holes were controlled and steady. He made par on 5 of those holes and any errors/shots dropped were kept to nothing worse than single shot errors, that’s not easy on those Harbor Hills closing holes. On a tough day to score his target finish would have been to keep it under 80 and he did more than that that with an impressive final scorecard tally of 38-40-78 to take the flight winner medal home!
Will’s 78 represents the second best 18 hole score in the whole player field today and should be celebrated by him as a fine achievement on a day when it was tough on everyone to keep scores low!
Well done Will, we know how many times you’ve got close recently. It was great to see such good play and we hope this leads to many more days like today!
The Young Tommy Morris Flight
On this occasion it was our 12 and 13 year old’s competing for the medal in this flight and early on, following the rain delay, it was clearly going to be mainly contested between 3 of our talented youngsters.
13 year old Katie Allen (Fruitland Park) is a really popular young player within Highlander Tour. She has played with us regularly since we began and we have all watched her progress with great interest and excitement for so many reasons. If anyone involved in Junior Golf today needs an example of how commitment, perseverance and a love of playing the game can pay off over, in Katie’s case, a relatively short period of time then we would ask you to look closely at Katie Allen!
A little over a year ago as a 12 year old Katie committed to playing golf competitively and regularly. This decision, augmented with great parental and external support, an understanding junior golf coach and a good practice regime have all resulted in a young lady golfer, who not so long ago, would regularly shoot 120+ now hovering on the verge of becoming a sub 80 junior golfer! Add to the above the fact that she is one of the most intelligent young ladies we know, who seems incapable of getting overly upset over any bad shot and who understands you cannot rush or force golf improvement, and you will start to understand why we are all so very proud of the young golfer and indeed the young lady Katie is becoming!
Katie is learning to play competition golf. She understands the principle better than many, she knows it’s best to play the golf course and not the person and she knows if you try your best to shoot a low score you may, or may not win! It’s not rocket science but along the way, and as your ability improves, you need to add so many things! One of the biggest is how best to formulate your thoughts when dealing with the setbacks, how to put behind you the setbacks and the dropped shots and only focus on what’s ahead!
Katie dropped 4 shots in the first 3 holes. Not a great start, and for some, a bad enough start to influence their mood, and their swing, for the rest of the day! Katie followed this up with par-par-par-par-par-par…six of them to bring a whole different perspective to the early part of her day at Harbor Hills! At the turn she enjoyed a share of the lead on +4(40) THAT right there tells you everything you need to know about how Katie’s progress is going so far in her goal to one day play professional golf !
Owen Sahajpal (Ocala GC) is a young player we first met last year. We can’t say we know him as well as some others but it’s clear for all to see that he’s an exceptionally talented young man who’s growing in confidence and stature all the time. Owen is an extremely respectful and humble young golfer who’s athletic and strong for his young years, especially off the tee, and with a nice touch around the greens too! That all adds up to a strong package and we cannot wait to see more of him as the season goes on!
Owen is striving for the same consistency as most other juniors his age, he gets it that it starts by making par regularly and he understands that if he can do that as often as possible opportunities will present themselves. A birdie at 7 was a nice highlight for Owen. In between that he managed to achieve par on 3 occasions on the opening 9, just as important though, dropped shots were kept to single shot bogey errors. At the halfway stage Owen shared the flight lead with Katie, both on +4(40)
Another of our Ocala youngsters, Justin Wallace was tucked in right alongside our leaders only one back +5(41) Justin returned to competition golf very recently. Clearly he may not have been competing for medals and honors but he’s certainly been practicing as his game is considerably more accomplished this year! Justin did a great job and made par on 6 of those opening holes to show everyone that, if he chooses to do so, he can challenge the top of our leaderboard and make 2021 a great year on his golf journey!
Just like those previously mentioned flights this one was no different. A shared leaderboard and the lowest scorer was undoubtedly going to be the one who could best deal with the tough closing 9 holes of Harbor Hills CC.
Katie found it tough to keep the consistent run going. A birdie at 15 was a highlight but on this occasion par was becoming tough to achieve. Katie’s day would finish with a scorecard of 40-45-85. Some really fine golf played and no doubt another good lesson learned for Katie!
Justin was also frustrated, and similarly, just couldn’t find par often enough either to force the challenge. He did however enjoy a great moment as we witnessed him make birdie on one of the toughest closing holes we know, the par 5 18th! Good job Justin, you were THE only player in the entire field to do so! Justin finished this one in runner up spot for the flight medal with a 41-43-84.
Owen showed some great qualities on the back 9. A par start was followed by a couple of dropped shots over 11 and 12 and to help things along he cancelled out one of those dropped shots immediately after with a great iron shot into 13 and a nicely judged putt for birdie. Par on 14,15 and 17 and although there were another couple of dropped shots on 16 and 18 they were nothing worse than bogey. Pleasingly for everyone it still allowed him to slip into the 70’s overall and record his first HJT medal win this year by carding a 40-39-79..Well done Owen and congratulations on what we think could be the first of many medal wins!
The Player Scores:
Nearest The Pin Award
This one went to our Alumni Flight competitor Michael Lis- Plannells who hit the closest shot of the day into number 8 at Harbor Hills CC. Good job Michael !
Thank you everyone who attended this one, thank you for your patience as we rode out the crazy storm and thank you players for giving it your very best after the restart!
Thank yo to Tom Leimberger, Krista Fabian and all of the staff at Harbor Hills CC for your support and welcome. We appreciate you and the great venue you represent.
As always thank you to our Tour Sponsor, Todd and Melissa Coon (TCL – Tri County Landscapes) for your wonderful support of junior golf in our community.
See you all at our next tournament event everyone. Full details of all future tournaments available by clicking HERE