FOUR JUNIORS CAPTURE TITLES
By Greg Gulas
Leah Benson is making a habit of winning Greatest Golfer of the Valley Juniors championships.
Benson won the last two 14-U Greatest Golfer of the Valley Juniors championships, but her goal in this year’s 17-U tournament was to make the finals.
She did way more than that.
Benson’s 82 on Saturday at Avalon Lakes was good enough to clinch a third consecutive title and her first in the upper division.
Jake Sylak remained on fire with a 74 to clinch the 17-U boys title and Rocco Turner posted 82 to secure the 14-U boys crown. Alexandra Petrochko shot 75 to capture the girls 14-U championship.
Benson (88-82) posted 170 for the 36-hole event, two strokes better than Kyra Woods (89-83) who entered Saturday’s finals just a stroke behind Benson.
Jackie Adler (94-86) finished third at 180, 10 shots off the lead and eight strokes behind Woods.
“The weather was quite hot today, so I switched cooling towels more than once,” Benson said. “I wished that I could jump in the lake so I could cool off. My approach shots and drives worked best for me today. I felt like I played well, especially on the back nine holes.
“There were some great golfers in this year’s field and while I wasn’t expecting to win, the qualifiers that I did win helped prepare me for this year’s championship. I learned course management.”
Unlike Benson, who played in all six qualifiers (winning three), Woods played in just the final two events and qualified in the final event this past Tuesday at Avalon Lakes.
“While I didn’t play in the first four events, I did play the final two and was focused, especially the past two days,” Woods said. “This was a great experience, everyone was really nice and the field very competitive. Overall, I was pleased with my play and finish the past two days.”
Adler also entered all six qualifying events.
“The biggest difference for me was that I was nervous during the first event at Pine Lakes but became more confident with each event that I played,” Adler said. “I was able to lower my scores and that made entering all worth it.
“My short game and drives got better, but I still need to work on my putting.”
Sylak (79-74), who was playing on his home course, became the only player to win three consecutive qualifiers, four overall and will add another trophy to his case, having won the 14-U division title in 2016.
“It was important to win those four events and humbling to win today’s championship,” Sylak said. “I had a nice opening round on Friday but still had a job to do today.
“I was more in control and hit some excellent shots. I was consistent with [the length of] my drives because it’s a lot easier to play from 100 yards in. I’m easily playing the best golf of my career. It’s the most consistent as well for me.”
Michael Porter (82-74) finished second, three strokes back while Tyler Anderson (82-82) was third 11 strokes off the pace.
“I played well yesterday, had a few mental mistakes but fixed that today,” Porter said. “This is one of the very nest junior tournaments around and competition like this really helps me during my high school season.”
Anderson (82-82), who was playing in his first Greatest junior event, carded 164 to finish third, finishing 11 strokes back.
“My irons today were better than yesterday, but I still left some putts out there that I wish I had back. I should have made them,” he said.
Turner’s 82 was a stroke better than runner-up Matthew Morelli (83) and three strokes better than Bryce Daggett (43-42) and Nathan Kelly (41-44), who tied for third-place.
Daggett won by virtue of a scorecard playoff.
“My irons were straight and my putting strong,” Turner said. “I felt like I was consistent, but you had to be consistent because the field was so competitive.”
Morelli posted a 40 on the front nine holes.
“This is my first Greatest Golfer event and I learned real fast not to get frustrated,” Morelli said. “You have to stay calm and play each hole as they come up. This is the most competitive field that I have ever gone up against, which will only make me a better golfer.”
Daggett, a native of Canfield, also was playing in his first event.
“The one thing I learned is that you have to stay positive out there,” he said. “It was an awesome experience.”
Petrochko carded 35 on the front nine holes and easily outdistanced runner-up Madison Murphy (47-38) by 10 strokes. Luiciana Masters (45-43) finished third, 13 strokes back.
“I didn’t play well last year but improved enough this year to win it all. That’s a great feeling,” Petrochko said. “I felt like I needed to start strong and did just that. I made some key birdie putts but kept looking over my shoulder at Madison.”
Murphy said her first event was a lot of fun.
“I had a lot of fun, more so on the back nine holes than I did on the front nine,” she said.
Matt Matasy, Avalon Lakes golf professional, said all four divisions were hotly contested.
“It was a pleasure to host this year’s Greatest Juniors event,” Matasy said. “It was a great group that featured many elite players. To have two of our own in contention, Jake Sylak and Alexandra Petrochko, who would go on to win their respective divisions, was fun to follow.”