NEW HAVEN, Conn. – For the first six holes at The Course at Yale on Wednesday June 26, Tyler Woodward didn’t have much of an idea what was going to happen.
Woodward was all over the legendary course, hitting his drive into the fescue on the third hole and into the water on the fourth before three-putting the sixth green from 20 feet.
But on the eighth tee, Woodward had a little chat with himself, hoping to right the ship and get into contention for second consecutive berth in the PGA of America’s Junior Golf Championship being played at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford on July 30-Aug. 2.
Woodward couldn’t have imagined what would transpire on the back nine, as he made birdie, his first hole-in-one and two more birdies at the 12th through 15th holes to rally for an even-par 70 and 36-hole total of 3-over 143 that gave him a tie for second with Alex Aurora of Hamden in the Connecticut Section PGA Boys Junior Championship. Woodward and Aurora finished three strokes behind medalist Alexander Gu of Darien.
On the girls’ side, Emily Cohen of Darien (69) and Irene Wang of Athens, Ga. (71) tied for first at 144 but were ineligible for the national championship because they are not members of the Connecticut Junior Golf Association. Julia Kashimura of Watertown birdied the 18th hole for 69-145 to grab first place in the national championship qualifying, one shot ahead of Angela Garvin of Feeding Hills, Mass. (71), who won the title a record-tying four consecutive times in 2014-18 and then lost a playoff to Sarah Houle last year.
Woodward, 18, of Durham and Aurora (69) finished three behind Gu, who spiced his 71 with an eagle 3 at the 16th hole to qualify for nationals for the first time after narrowly missing in his first two attempts.
“The front was tough. Everything was going wrong,” said Woodward, who didn’t start playing golf until five years ago when several friends introduced him to the game. “But then I had the talk, hoping to par the tough eighth and nine holes and then try to make some birdies on the back side. I get frustrated, but it doesn’t last, and I played well down the stretch.”
After pars at the 10th and 11th holes, Woodward hit an 8-iron to 8 feet to set a birdie and then knocked a 6-iron into the cup on the 196-yard 13th hole. He capped his memorable streak with a wedge to 8 feet at the 14th hole and a 6-iron at No. 15 to 6 feet that led to a birdie and a total of three strokes on the two par-3 holes on the back nine.
“I was yelling for it to go,” Woodward said of his first hole-in-one. “It landed two yards short and fell right in. It was an amazing feeling. It was my first ace, so you always remember a shot like that.”
Woodward, who plays out of Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, shot 139 a year ago to finish second to Christopher Fosdick, who got an exemption into the nationals this year. Hard work with friend Jack French helped Woodland improve his game, and he was the No. 1 player on the Coginchaug High School in Durham team that went 16-0 record, won the Shoreline Conference title and tied for first in the CIAC Division IV Championship. Woodland finished second in the conference tournament, third in the state championship and won the CIAC State Open for boys and girls in all divisions.
Gu, 17, who will be a senior at Darien High School, bogeyed the par-3 fifth and ninth holes and was still 2 over when he got to the 553-yard par-5 16th. A drive and 3-iron to 20 feet set up his eagle, and a bogey at the treacherous par-5 18th merely reduced his margin of victory.
“Patience and being able to hit the fairways and greens in the correct spots were a big reason I did so well,” said Gu, who plays out of Tashua Knolls GC in Trumbull and Oak Hill Park GC in Norwalk. “Position on the greens is a necessity because you can have 60-foot putts out here and that’s never good.”
Gu’s 69 led after the rain-delayed first round, and now he’ll be playing in the national championship after his close calls the past two years.
“It was very frustrating to just miss in my first two tries, but now I’m really looking forward to the national championship, especially since it’s in Connecticut,” Gu said.
Gu finished fourth and third in his first two starts in this event but didn’t qualify because each of the 41 PGA of America sections get two spots in the nationals unless it is hosting the event, which gives them four berths. Gu and Darien High School finished second in both the FCIAC and CIAC championships and won the CIAC State Open.
Jeremy Yun of Old Saybrook birdied the last two holes for 69-143 and a tie for fourth with Jonathan Elkins of South Deerfield, Mass., whose 68 was the low round of the day. Yun then parred the first playoff hole to earn the fourth spot in the nationals, while Elkins became first alternate.
Will Lodge of Darien (69), Luke Willenborg of Southwick, Mass. (73) and Mitchel Schwab of Westport (75) tied for sixth at 145, but Schwab wasn’t eligible for the nationals. Lodge became second alternate when he parred the first playoff hole against Willenborg.
Jared Walter of South Windsor (74) tied Michael Hanratty of Avon (71) for eighth at 146, and Walter birdied the second playoff hole to earn fourth alternate with Hanratty getting the fifth spot.
Wang’s opening 73 gave her a two-stroke lead that she maintained through 13 holes before a strong showing by Cohen left them tied after regulation. Cohen birdied the 14th, 16th and 17th holes while Wang could match her only on No. 17, leaving them tied with a hole to go. Each bogeyed the 18th to finish at 4-over 144.
Cohen, 18, who will be a freshman this fall at Elon University in Elon, N.C., then birdied the second playoff to win the overall title. She attributed much of her success to a practice round two days earlier with Barry Troiano, who used to work at the course.
“He’s my coach, teacher and inspiration,” said Cohen, who spent the last two years at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. “He gave me some great advice about club selection and being in the right position around and on the greens. I followed my game plan really well and trusted my swing. And I love playing Yale. It’s such a pleasure to play and like a wildlife sanctuary.”
Cohen plans to play in the Junior Girls North-South Championship that starts this weekend at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C., and the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Championship July 24-25 at Oronoque Village CC in Stratford. She also hopes to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship on Aug. 5-11 at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss.
Wang, who sandwiched this event with tournaments in Virginia and Vermont, said she was a little nervous in the playoff because it was the first time she had gone extra holes in stroke play.
“It’s usually match play, so this was a little different,” Wang said. “I started well (two birdies in the first four holes), and my driving and irons were good. But it was disappointing to miss the 10-foot putt (for par) on the last hole.”
Kashimura, 16, who will be a junior at Taft School in Watertown, advanced to her first national championship after losing a playoff to Garvin for the second and final spot last year.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Kashimura said. “I couldn’t go last year, so I really wanted to do it this time.”
Kashimura, who won the 2018 New England Girls Prep School Championship, said her putter was the main reason that she attained her goal and earned No. 1 among those eligible for the nationals when she made a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
“I hit the ball similar to what I did yesterday (76), but I made the most of all of the makeable putts that I looked at today,” she said. “I had missed good birdie chances on 16 and 17, so I really wanted to make the one on 18. I was keeping Angela’s scorecard, so I knew I needed the last putt to beat her.”
The other two girls to qualify for the nationals were Sophia Sarrazin of Westport, whose closing 68 was the low score of the girls’ tournament and gave her 147, one ahead of Alexsandra Lapple of Ridgefield (73-148).
The course played par-70, 6,403 yards for the boys and par-70 for 5,430 yards for the girls.
The tournament was a prelude to the Boys and Girls Junior PGA Championships that will be played at Keney Park GC in Hartford. The girls will compete July 9-12, while the boys will tee it up July 30-Aug. 2 in two of junior golf’s major championships.
Those events will feature 144 of the best male and female junior golfers from more than 40 states and several countries. Only participants who reside in the Connecticut Section PGA boundaries or belong to a Connecticut Section facility were eligible to advance to the national championships.