By Pete Mollica
At 5-foot-3, Kelly Fleming isn’t noted for her long, booming drives on the golf course.
The 17-year-old, who will be a senior at Canfield High School next fall, likes to rely on her short game to get her through a round.
“If you asked me yesterday what the strong point in my game is, I’d had said my short game,” Fleming said. “But then I went out today and didn’t play well at all.
“But at 5-3 and not overly strong, I still have to rely on my short game if I’m looking to play well,” Fleming said. “I can putt and chip pretty well.”
Fleming will be taking part next month in the junior version of the Greatest Golfer of the Valley tournament sponsored by Farmers National Bank and The Vindicator. The Greatest Junior Golfer of the Valley event is open to any player under the age of 18 as of Aug. 31.
Fleming was excited when she heard about the event.
“I wasn’t really that familiar with last year’s event until our high school coach [Diane McCall] told us about it and that they were going to add a junior division this year,” Fleming said. “I’m really happy about it and I think it’s a great idea to get us junior golfers involved.”
The Greatest Junior Golf of the Valley event kick off with three junior qualifying events at Diamondback Golf Course in Canfield (July 5), Tamer Win Golf Course in Cortland (July 8 for boys, July 11 for girls) and Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Hermitage (July 21).
At each qualifier, the top four girls and top four boys out of the top age division will advance to the Greatest Junior Golfer championship which will be on July 31 at Trumbull Country Club.
Those qualifiers will get to compete for $5,000 in scholarships provided by PowerBilt Golf and Golf Headquarters in Boardman and Niles.
Fleming has played three years on the Canfield High golf team and she began golfing at the age of 7, playing in her first tournament at 12.
“I played in about eight tournaments last year and will play in about that many this year,” Fleming said. “I finished second in the Tamer Win event a year ago.”
She plays most of her golf at Diamondback and Salem Hills, and also likes to play at Mill Creek. She takes weekly lessons at Avalon Country Club.
Sixteen-year-old James LaPolla, who will be a junior at Warren JFK High next year, is another junior golfer looking forward to this tournament.
He got to see some of the action last year when his father, James Jr., competed in the first Greatest Golfer of the Valley tournament and walked away with the top prize in the second division.
“My dad plays and my grandfather was a scratch golfer so they had me out on the course by the time I was 5 years old,” LaPolla said. “We are members of Trumbull Country Club and they had camps for the younger players that I took part in.
“I think I was 12 when I played in my first tournament, and this year I’ve joined the North Coast Junior Tour,” LaPolla said. “I’ve won twice, once at Avalon and again at Candywood and I finished second at Stambaugh and third at Tamer Win.
“I really think it’s pretty neat adding the juniors to this event,” LaPolla said. “I’m looking forward to it because I know that I’ll be competing against a lot of kids that I’ve played against in high school.”
Curtis Bollinger of Howland is another junior golfer who got a close look at the Greatest Golf of the Valley event last year when his father, Jerry, competed.
The 17-year-old, who will be a senior at Howland High next fall, said his parents had him on the golf course at 18 months old.
Bollinger has played for the Howland High golf team for three seasons. He began playing tournament golf at age 5 and usually plays in four or five tournaments a year.
He’s looking forward to this tournament.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they are including the juniors this year,” Bollinger said. “I’m looking forward to it and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Bollinger says the strong part of his game is the approach shots.
“I’m not real big, but I can still get the drives out 280, but I’m pretty good from the 6-iron to 9-iron range,” Bollinger said.
Fourteen-year-old Billy Colbert of Hermitage got a step up on the junior field when he captured the top spot in the junior tournament sponsored by the Sharon Herald at Tam O’Shanter this past week.
Colbert shot 84 and won by two strokes and he too will look forward to the Greatest Junior Golfer of the Valley event next month.
Colbert, who will be a freshman at Hickory High School next fall, has been playing golf for about 10 years, tournament golf the past four or five.
“My short game is the best part of my game right now, short irons and putting. But I can hit it pretty good also,” Colbert said.
He plays most of his golf at Tam O’Shanter.