By Greg Gulas
Boardman’s Cole Christman shot a sizzling four-under-par 68, carding 141 over the two-day finals, to capture this year’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley’s 17-U championship Saturday at Avalon Lakes Golf Course.
New Wilmington’s Erika Hoover authored an 82-166, nine strokes better than runner-up Kyra Woods for her first 17-U girls title.
Caleb Domitrovich’s 80 (42-38) and Leah Benson’s 82 (41-41) were tops in 14-U boys and girls, respectively.
Christman won his third Greatest championship — he also won in 2014, 2015 and 2017). The Boardman High School senior was tied for the lead with Anthony Clark (73) after Friday’s opening round at Squaw Creek in Vienna.
A 33 on the front nine and 35 on the back created distance between the two competitors.
“I shot a 68 here last year and really enjoy this course,” Christman said. “I got off to a good start on the front with my wedges and driver, had an eagle on the third hole and my putter was hot.
“I made a lot of putts inside 10 feet on the front and that helped set the tone of my round.”
In addition to his eagle, Christman had four birdies and 11 pars.
“This course is always a challenge and you need to have a plan because of the water, bunkers and trees,” Christman said. “Pin placements here are challenging, especially on holes No. 9, 14 and 18. I just tried to hit it short and get a decent look.
“I love Avalon and love how they treat junior golf. It’s great to play in local tournaments like the Greatest Golfer of the Valley because the courses are fun and challenging.”
Clark carded 38-37 after shooting 73 on Friday.
“I putted better today and was happy with that, but I still struggled with my driver,” Clark said. “My 70-yard shots today weren’t what I had hoped they would be, plus my chipping could have been better.”
Clark also qualified last year but was unable to compete due to a prior commitment. He said this year’s tourney was a lot of fun.
“I had a blast, got to make some new friends and through this competition you get to know the participants better,” Clark said. “Cole played well today and is a really good player. He hit a lot of great shots.”
Cardinal Mooney’s Keegan Butler finished third with 150, following his 75 at Squaw Creek with another 75 (38-37).
“I felt like I played really well. It’s the best that I have ever played here,” Butler said. “I didn’t strike the ball well like yesterday and scrambled again to save my round.
“The greens weren’t in the best shape and I only made one putt inside five feet. I am happy to come in third in this my last year. Typically, it doesn’t come together for me but this year it did.”
Hoover shot 40-44 and won for the first time in six tries. Her round included a birdie and 11 pars.
“The key was course management and I felt like I did well with that on the front nine,” she said. “On the back nine I bogeyed No. 10 while my driver kept me down the middle and down the fairway almost every hole. I need to thank my swing coach, Craig Weis, because he made me a champion.”
Woods, a junior at Hickory High School who finished third last year, was in fifth place after Friday’s first round (92) but shot 83 (40-43) to move up to second and finished nine strokes off Hoover’s pace.
“I played much better today than I did yesterday,” Woods said. “My drives at Squaw Creek weren’t long and they were much better today. My second shots landed well and made it easier for me to putt.”
Canfield’s Hannah Keffler, who won the event in 2015 and has finished in the top-three all six years that she has qualified, was third overall with a 178 after carding 89 both days.
“These weren’t my best two days, but I still had a lot of fun,” she said. “I was drawing my ball to the point where it was tough to control. My putting and chipping was good, but I couldn’t make up for it.”
Leah Benson of Tam O’Shanter Golf Course won five of this year’s six qualifying events, winning the 14-U division for the second straight year.
Jayne Bernard of Cardinal Mooney and Mill Creek Golf Course finished second with an 87 (44-43) while Alexandra Petrochko of Avalon Lakes was third with 94 (46-48).
“I work on my game all the time and try to putt every day and visit the driving range when I can,” Benson said. “My putting really helped me today and I want to take this opportunity to thank Avalon Lakes [and] The Vindicator for such a great event and Rick and Paula Kerins of Tam O’Shanter Golf Course. They’ve really helped me, always been by my side and welcomed me.”
Bernard finished third in 2017 and 2016.
“My front nine was decent, but I feel like I could have done better. I’d definitely change a few things with my club selection,” Bernard said. “My chipping was on and two-putted most greens, but I was either hitting too short or too long.”
Domitrovich won by one stroke over Kaiden Sykes (42-39), who carded 81 for runner-up, laurels.
“I had two bad holes, posting a triple bogey on No. 9 and double bogey on No. 5, but my back nine I was driving the ball really well,” the McDonald eighth-grader said. “I had an eagle on No. 14 and quite a few good putts.
“I had a great time playing great area courses while making a lot of new friends.”
Sykes was playing in his second tournament, finishing third a year ago.
“This year I controlled my shots better while last year I had to scramble,” Sykes said. “I hit more straight shots this year. I had a quad on No. 8 and a triple on the front nine, so I was pleased with my overall score. I had a ton of fun and made a lot of new friends as well.”
In all, 46 golfers representing 18 Mahoning Valley golf courses and five counties took part in the Greatest Golfer’s ninth season produced by The Vindicator and hosted by Farmers National Bank, Covelli Enterprises and Superior Beverage along with 14 other companies and golf course sponsors.