On Saturday it was a cold, wet and windy return to our home course venue at Eagle Ridge GC for our players and supporters.

For most of the week we had heard nothing but doom and gloom from the weather forecast “experts?” whose predictions ranged from a strong likelihood of “cold and wet” all the way up to an extreme likelihood of “VERY cold and VERY wet !!

Meanwhile we kept receiving player entries from junior golfers who want to play golf! On Friday at 5pm we made the decision to go ahead and play and, although we were down a few players on normal numbers, we are really glad that we did!

Thank you to all of our players for coming out and playing through what, in the end, turned out to be nowhere near as bad as the experts predicted. From a personal perspective too, thank you for once again proving to me (someone who grew up playing in the cold and rain of Scotland) that we DON’T just play golf in Florida when the sun shines!

As is usually the case we start with a welcome!  Joining us to play for the first time was Alex Olson (Spruce Creek South). Alex, it was really great to see you at Eagle Ridge GC. We hope you enjoyed your first experience of HJT and everyone made you feel welcome. We watched you play some very good golf on your debut with us and clearly you are already an experienced and developing junior competitor. We hope to see you competing again with us soon.

With slightly reduced numbers we had to ensure each of our player flights was as balanced as possible. This resulted in a little bit of a necessary shake up regarding where some of our players were placed. As we only had one of our 2021 qualified Claret Jug players in attendance (Nick Zarillo) we were unable to operate a Claret Jug Flight. In addition our Old Tom Morris Flight which is usually populated with our 16-18 year old’s, contained only our 17-18’s with all of our 16’s this time around making up the Young Tommy Morris Flight.

The Old Tom Morris Flight: 

This was a Flight of familiar names and players who have all had previous HJT medal success. Each of the players competing on Saturday are at different stages of development right at this moment and that gives us, and hopefully each of them, great cause for excitement over the next few weeks and months.

Jack Panigoni(Panigoni Golf Academy) is a young player I have known personally for many years. I have watched Jack dedicate a huge part of his life to the game we all love and that dedication and his undoubted talent resulted in a lengthy run of successful junior golf tournament wins far too numerous to mention. The latter part of last year proved extremely challenging for Jack as frustrations he encountered within his game were then further aggravated by injury forcing a lengthy lay-off from playing.

Golf is every bit as psychological as it is physical, make no mistakes about that! If you are in a good place and at the top of your game you need to work even harder to stay there. Unfortunately taking enforced time away will take its toll on any player, amateur or professional, and the ONLY way back to the top is to get back playing competitively and refocus on the things you have learned and that have worked for you in the past. Jack Panigoni is still one of the most talented young golfers I have ever had the pleasure to watch play, his ability has not diminished in any way and it’s clear that his confidence is gradually returning too. I find it heartening to see him playing with us again regularly and working really hard each week to get back to where he was, and where many of us expect to see him again, competing once more for the top spot in junior tournaments!

A front 9 on Saturday of +3(39) included a birdie at 9 and any errors were kept to nothing more than a single stroke. Unfortunately for Jack he wasn’t able to build on that through the back 9 BUT the positives were all there to see early on.

Good luck Jack on your comeback trail, it will take time but those of us who know you have the belief that if you can practice hard, and often, and play like those early holes you will soon be right up there once again!

Our closest medal challenger, and ultimately runner-up on Saturday, played some of the very best golf we have seen him play through the opening 11 holes of this one. Trenton Waters (Montverde) completed the front 9 in a very impressive +1(37) which included birdie at 5 and par on 6 of those opening holes. He kept the run going with par at 10 and another birdie at 11 followed. It was an exceptional show from a young man who has clearly been working extremely hard on his game recently in order to raise it to the next level this season.

As we watched the scoreboard closely, in the hope that he could keep it going, things took an unfortunate turn. Strokes lost over a number of the closing holes would have dented his confidence but he did stop the disappointing run by finishing with par on the challenging 18th…and what a brilliant par it was too!

An error off the tee leaving him way short of the normal landing zone was immediately followed by an uphill hit of epic proportions which finished pin high left of the tricky flag placement, It was an immense shot which was followed by two fine putts for par! Trenton’s challenge for the medal may have ended a little earlier in the day but it’s not at all difficult to find positives in his day, when you combine his performance over those early holes and his courage and ability to take on that shot at 18, the positives are all there. Well done Trenton, it was great to watch you play on Saturday! Trenton’s final scorecard was 37-42-(79)

And that takes us of course to our medal winner. It won’t come as a surprise to any of our readers to see the name, Nick Zarillo (Mike Bender Golf Academy), appear here once again as our Old Tom Morris Flight medalist. Last week Nick celebrated the fact he had secured 6 wins in 6 HJT appearances. Well, let’s now make that a Magnificent 7!

The young man from Lake Mary who prefers to walk every course with his caddie by his side (Dad, Darren) is in a rich and consistent vein of form right now. Since we began HJT no player has ever won as consistently and convincingly and as often, and we could NOT be any happier for Nick!

I want to be very clear here on our message about Nick and his recent performances. We (HJT) exist for one reason, and one reason only, to give as many young golfers as possible regular opportunities to play our great game competitively. By doing so we (hopefully!) help them build competition confidence and improve their skills.

At this moment Nick Zarillo is without any question our top performer and prize asset for many reasons, he is a fine young man and an exceptional role model to others. He has shown time and time again he has a lot of what it takes to be a successful player as he plays the game with respect and humility around others and a huge degree of self belief in himself each time he tees it up, his opponent incidentally is whichever golf course he’s playing and NOT who he happens to be playing alongside, and he’s not afraid to make mistakes!

We are lucky to have a number of very capable players in our ranks who can challenge for medals and record similar low scores. Right now though it’s Nick who’s performing at a level beyond that of anyone else and we’re all good with that! Golf at junior, amateur and professional level needs it’s leading players, they are the benchmark for all others and improvement can only happen when we have our best players performing.

Nick will be the first to tell you he is still a work in progress when it comes to his game and we have the utmost respect for that, we do hope that his game continues on the same track, and even improves further, for some time yet as he begins preparation for his next challenge, that of college golfer when he leaves us in the summer.

Incidentally there is another dynamic going on here which is really pleasing for us at HJT. It’s seldom mentioned  when writing these reports but Nick and his dad/caddie, Darren Zarillo are reminders of another extraordinary spin off product of what we do. It’s one that we should all rank as an even higher priority in life than golf and any personal achievement, it is of course Family!

Over the last year we have watched many of our players take to the fairways with dad alongside as their caddie and support mechanism. These are unique and special opportunities to share great experiences with our kids and they create memories that will live with us forever. Darren is a huge part of Nick’s routine and, speaking as a parent, I know only too well how that feels and just how much he will be enjoying this closeness and the time they get to spend together. Their relationship and bond is a special one that’s been helped, in part, by our unique and wonderful game!

On Saturday Nick played like Nick does, the only errors he made all day proved to be recoverable single stroke errors, both on the front nine were cancelled out by impressive birdies at 8 and 9 for a level par 36. and on the back 9 he made par on no fewer than 7 occasions, Steady and consistent par golf and take advantage when opportunities present themselves, it’s what he does!  Nick’s winning card was 36-38-(74)

Congratulations from everyone on medal 7 of 2021 to TEAM Zarillo, Nick and Darren. Good job guys!

 

7 wins from 7 starts for Nick. Keep it up Nick, good job!

The Young Tommy Morris Flight:

From early on it very much looked like the medalist in this one would come down to either Jonathan Ring (Rhineland Cutlery) or Caden Fockler (The Villages HS). Both are no strangers to winning HJT medals!

2021 is going to be an interesting, and I hope rewarding, year for both of these talented young players. At aged 16 they have each been playing competitive junior golf competitions for many years and it shows! Both have a very strong game with excellent technical ability and there is absolutely no question in my mind that the only thing that can stop either from progressing to where they want to be and achieving the goals they set themselves in golf lies firmly in their own hands…at 16 it’s not so much about ability as both have demonstrated an ample sufficiency of that…NOW it’s more about each player setting themselves realistic golf goals and having the BELIEF in themselves that they can achieve them!

Caden Fockler will win HJT medals this year…FACT! How many is in his hands but he will bag his share, just like last year! I can say that with a degree of knowledge because I know how good he is and how hard he works on his game. He is very much dedicated to improvement and golf is HIS game.

In 2019 when I first began watching Caden play it was in my capacity as Assistant Coach (to Mark Panigoni) with The Villages High School. It remains to this day as one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in golf! A bit like HJT now, we had an eclectic mix of young players that made up our High School team all sharing a common goal, to represent and play golf for their school!

Caden was in my opinion the most dedicated of them all. A team player? Yes, absolutely,  BUT at the same time totally focused on his own game and always looking to improve. There was a time for having fun and a time to get down to work and work began on the first tee. I don’t think much has changed in that respect, I hope not!

This year I suspect Caden could step up and be that top performing High School player, I’m guessing that’s very possibly a goal he has set himself and I have total belief he can achieve it! Saturday wasn’t his best day out there for scoring but some of his overall play was impressive and he did finish only a couple back on our medalist. There were enough positive signs to show everyone just why we believe Caden Fockler will have a strong 2021!

Jonathan Ring is still only 16. I wrote that to remind myself and the rest of you reading this! On Saturday and due in part to a smaller field of players it became necessary for us to reshuffle the ages within our normal named player flights. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever had to do so and it meant our “oldest” players (18’s) all played together and our 16 year old players populated our Young Tommy Morris Flight….it was strange to see Jonathan’s name in there!

Let me try to explain what I mean by that. As long as I have known Jonathan I have never thought of him as anything other than a “Senior” player of our group. Even when playing alongside other players aged 18 I don’t think I have ever really stopped to consider he is playing against older kids…I’ve considered HIM as one of the older kids! Part of that is of course his personality and his maturity, he very much conducts himself like a young adult so when his name pops up in our “mid-age” flight it just seems a little bit odd!

So, what’s the relevance in all of this age stuff? Well for one thing it means we have to consider the fact that Jonathan still has time on his side to reach whatever golf targets he may wish to set himself over the next couple of years and that’s exciting! It’s exciting for us to watch him develop even further as he is already a very talented and experienced junior competition player who loves the game and it should be exciting for him to be considering where he wants his game to go over the next few years!

In exactly the same way as many other 16-18 year old’s playing with us are now looking forward to playing college golf we hope Jonathan will take some time, if indeed he hasn’t already, to consider how golf can fit alongside his studies and business and still be an important part of HIS future over the next few years! I am certain Jonathan will play our great game for life however when you have as much ability and junior competition experience behind you as he has at 16 I am excited to see how much he can develop further over the next couple of years, I hope he is too!

Jonathan is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining players we have to watch! He plays with a smile on his face and fears nothing, he takes risks and he does have the ability to pull them off (most of the time!), when you ask Jonathan what his favorite shot is and he tells you it’s his “Driver off the Deck!” you start to get the picture right?

Jonathan had some fine moments to look back on on Saturday during this one. Birdies at 9 and 15 were impressive and despite his clear disappointment at not going even lower (that’s always very obvious about our best players, they not only want to win but they “win” unhappily unless they shoot low!)  he took his second HJT medal of 2021 by two strokes from Caden.

Congratulations “young” Jonathan from everyone at HJT. Keep being YOU!

 

It’s win number 2 for Jonathan Ring in 2021…edging ever closer to our Claret Jug Flight. Good job J.

The Bobby Jones Flight:

Our 13-15 year old girls and boys in this one and once again it became pretty evident from early on that the medal for lowest score was going to be taken by either Zach Phan (Ocala GC) or the youngster who’s visiting and competing in Florida right now from New York, Brayden Dock(Glens Falls, NY)

Since the season began we’ve watched as Zach Phan has played some very impressive golf. He’s had his tough rounds too but we know enough about this young “lefty” from Ocala to know he is a real competitor and we’ve seen enough in his game to know that he is definitely heading in the right direction when it comes to scoring low. Zach has a great deal of competition experience under his belt already and in the last year has moved up a level in age groups too so to be competing so strongly within this mix of juniors where many are older is another good sign of just how much he is progressing!

He is tough on himself at times, maybe at times a little too tough if things don’t go to plan but that’s all part of the learning process. He will get better at dealing mentally with the errors and bad breaks and moving on as gets older. He’s single minded, very focused and wants to shoot low scores and there is no question he has the ability to do so…Zach is a player who’s gradually closing in on the consistency of shooting mid 70’s or even .close to level par competition rounds and that’s impressive for any 13 year old!

Zach played well Saturday and it could have been even better still if not for some real bad breaks in luck around the greens.  Birdies at 9 and 13 were highlights and the one at 13 came so very close to giving him an eagle! Overall and while it was not enough to take the medal it was still a very positive day and a very credible 38-41-(79) scorecard for Zach. Well played young man…keep doing what you are doing and we really do look forward to seeing you have a very succesful 2021.

Last week we were joined for the first time by young Brayden Dock from NY. Brayden is visiting family in Florida and taking the opportunity while here to play in conditions highly unlike those he’s about to return to back home!

Brayden took the flight winners medal last week at Continental with a very impressive 77 and he was looking to impress once again by going low on our scoreboard at Eagle Ridge GC.

On both occasions he has played it’s been interesting to note that two of the parents of players playing alongside Brayden have commented at different times that he is an exceptionally talented young player who has “All the Shots” in his bag! I did watch Brayden playing several shots over both weeks and I noted how accomplished he was particularly around the greens but then I fully expected to see that anyway as I had a bit of inside info help that made me want to go and watch him play!

The inside scoop? Well, last year Brayden Dock was successful in qualifying to play in the 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt Tournament that takes place prior to The Masters at Augusta National!

What an incredible achievement for any young golfer that must be! Unfortunately at that time though it came with issues that no one could have expected. Covid-19 quickly put paid to the competition happening last year BUT it does mean that, barring any further issues, the young contestants will this year make their way to the famous venue this April to test their skills against the best in the country. And for all of us lucky enough to know Brayden it gives us our very own HJT player to support during Masters Week 2021!

He may have only made two appearances but he certainly left his mark on us! Brayden went about his business on Saturday confidently and consistently. A birdie at 9 helped him record a front 9 total of +2(38) and another arrived at 17. His card contained the odd error but nothing worse than a single shot dropped which helped him better last week’s total by two strokes. It would be wrong of me too if I didn’t give you my take on the example I witnessed that shows just how good this young golfer’s game is, his short game in particular!

At the par 3 14th Brayden got the most unfortunate kick I think I’ve seen in many years when his tee shot saw his ball strike a sprinkler head which was positioned alongside the green. The huge deflection took his ball at least 30 yards beyond the green, over a large tree lined hill behind the trees and into an area of patchy waste. With a bad lie and no view of the green he had no option but to hit up, over and through the gap in the trees back towards a green that was sloping away from him towards a deep sand trap.

His shot was as close to perfection as it could be stopping just at the end of the green. Two putts secured a bogey 4 and he moved on with a smile. BEST bogey I have seen all year without question! I don’t expect he is going to have it quite as tough at Augusta but if that was an indication of this young man’s ability I expect him to do very well indeed!

Incidentally right there is my message to ALL of our junior golfers. When you practice short game please DON’T forget to practice from those areas you think you’re unlikely to visit…if you don’t YOUR story might end up with a scorecard number on it that goes way, way beyond Brayden’s bogey 4!

Brayden went on to take HJT medal number two from his two appearances with an impressive 38-37-(75). Congratulations Brayden from everyone at HJT, we hope to welcome you back to Florida sometime soon and please take our very best wishes and good luck with you to Augusta. We will be watching and cheering you on!

 

Played 2 Won 2 …good job Brayden! Come back soon !

 

The field on Saturday and their scores.

Our final award is for our Nearest -the Pin winner. This time it went to the young man from Hernando AJ Burns(Lecanto HS) who got it closest. Good shot AJ, enjoy your prize!

That rounds things off for another week for us. Thank you Eagle Ridge GC and GM Dale Smauder for hosting us and thank you to all of our players who braved the forecast and the weather conditions to give it your best on Saturday…it didn’t turn out too bad now did it ?

Next up for us we are heading back to the unique and historic venue that is known to most of the locals of Ocala simply as “Muni” ….Ocala GC is the venue on Saturday 20th March. Registration is open now by clicking on the link HERE 

Thank you as always to our Tour Sponsor TCL. Todd and Melissa Coon for your ongoing support of what we do and your support of junior golf development in our community. Find out more about TCL by clicking HERE

                 Thank you to our sponsor.

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