By Greg Gulas
The 54-hole Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation American Junior Golf Association All-Star Tournament begins Tuesday at Mill Creek Golf Course with 132 entries.
The final 12 slots — 10 boys and two girls — were decided Sunday on the Mill Creek South Course.
Of Sunday’s 88 junior golfers, 28 already were qualified.
“There are 90 boys and 42 girls in this year’s event and we’ll cut to the top 50 percent and ties after we complete 36 holes on Wednesday,” said Hailey Estes, AJGA Midwest Regional tournament manager and qualifying director. “This is the third straight year that we are using the Mill Creek Golf Course and Brian [Tolnar] is to be commended for not only helping to increase the field, but for his willingness to give up course time on both Tuesday and Wednesday.”
This year’s field was 36 more than in 2017.
Twenty-four states and four countries will be represented at the tourney.
One local participant, Jayne Bernard, a 10th grader at Cardinal Mooney High School, sought to qualify.
Bernard was competing for the second straight year and while her 90 on Sunday was better than her finish last year, she failed to advance.
She didn’t record a birdie, but had five pars, four of which came on her first nine holes.
“My score was better this year, but the competition was definitely much better as well,” Bernard said. “I was really pleased with my putting, but felt like I could have done much better.”
Sunday’s boys qualifiers included David Luo (Centreville, Va), who shot a one over par 71, and Jack Guerrera (Northville, Mich.) and Ryan Bilby (Follansbee, W.Va.), each of whom carded 72.
Ben MacLean (Niagara Falls, Ontario), Chris Dorey (Allentown, N.J.) and Joshua Lavely (Kewadin, Mich.), each authoring 74s.
The final four boys, all of whom shot 75 were XiuZhi (Bruce) Huang (Windermere, Fla.), Carsten Judge (Columbus), Ben Burgan (Westfield, Ind.) and Brian Murdock (Wesley Chapel, Fla.).
Guerrera, a sophomore at Detroit Catholic High School, was playing in his first AJGA event and recorded 36 on both the front and back nines.
“The course played tight but the greens were excellent,” Guerra said. “I’ll work tonight and tomorrow on the spots where I left some strokes today.”
Dorey, who is also a sophomore and attends Petty High School in Hightstown, N.J.y, also was playing in his initial AJGA sponsored tournament.
“This might be my first AJGA event, but the course is in great shape and that made my round today that much more exciting,” Dorey said. “This is a talented field and that is what made it even more fun for me.”
The two girls completing the field were Kary Hollenbaugh (New Albany), who shot a 73 and Hoi Ki Lau (Hong Kong, China) who carded a 76.
Lau shot a 39 on the back nine holes and capped off her day with a 37 on the front nine.
“My second and third shots were good the entire day and that kept me in good position,” Lau said. “I liked the course and didn’t think that the long grass was too difficult to play.”
Tolnar, Mill Creek PGA director of golf, has been involved with all three local AJGA events and five overall during his career. He says the AJGA sets the pace when it comes to playing a round.
“AJGA golfers play fast because pace of play is huge. They try to make sure that a round is played in under four hours and last year, they averaged three hours and 42 minutes,” Tolnar said. “That to me is extremely impressive as they walk the course under tournament conditions.
“I‘m most proud of the fact that we will top the $1 million mark this year when it comes to monies generated by the tournament for area businesses. Hotels, shopping at local malls and retail outlets, restaurants and car rentals among other areas will generate over $458,000 this year alone.”
Tee times for Tuesday’s first-round action are set for 7-8:40 a.m. and noon-1:40 p.m.