A made-to-order weather day at Eagle Trace Golf Course produced some great finishes to match.
Grayson’s Ryan Gillum and Ashland’s Tate Justus won playoffs in the two oldest boys’ divisions Monday at the Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association Walmart Tour event.
Neither playoff carried beyond the No. 1 hole.
Gillum, Ashland’s Evan Cox and Irvine’s Andrew Farmer tied for the top spot in the Grade 11-12 group with 2-over par rounds of 74. Tournament director Tom Cooksey said he couldn’t recall a previous three-way playoff to determine an EKJGA winner.
On the playoff hole, Gillum sent his drive down the middle of the par-4, then lofted a wedge shot that rested within 6 feet of the hole. Meanwhile, Cox and Farmer found trouble and each settled for bogey. Gillum safely two-putted for his par and the title.
“It feels good, because I was in a playoff with two very talented players that played well today,” Gillum said. “Evan’s a really good golfer. He almost always shoots low scores. He makes it tough.”
It took some work for Gillum to boost himself into contention after shooting 41 on the front side — thanks to three double-bogeys.
“Going to No. 10, I was basically trying to reboot,” said the Elliott County sophomore. “I had to go back to the basics and try to shoot a low number on the back.”
Rally he did, firing a 3-under 33 on the back nine, including a string of three birdies beginning on No. 13.
“I stuck my approach shots fairly close,” Gillum said of 13, 14 and 15. “I think the most I had for a putt was 10 feet. I knew I had to give myself some pretty decent chances because I hadn’t been putting well.”
Gillum’s opportunity for a fourth consecutive birdie lipped out on No. 16. He also parred the last two holes after having looks at birdies.
“Conditions were good,” Gillum said. “The greens were firm, and I like that. I think it will be good conditions going into Friday.”
The boys area high school golf season opens that morning with the Eagle Trace High School Invitational.
It’s been a terrific summer for Gillum, who tied for eighth in the prestigious Bluegrass Junior at Bellefonte Country Club in June.
“That really helped my confidence,” he said. “I competed against some of the top juniors probably in the southeast. That helps you mentally.”
Gillum also placed in the top 10 of his age group (15-16) at the Kentucky Junior Amateur.
Likewise, Justus is another player on the rise in 2013. Monday marked his sixth EKJGA Walmart Tour Grade 9-10 victory in seven tournaments. He won two of them by shooting under par — 69 at Paintsville Country Club and 71 at Hidden Cove.
“A lot of hard work is paying off,” said Justus, now a sophomore. “I feel like I’ve improved with a lot of practice, and a lot of playing. It’s getting out there as much as you can, finding out what you are not doing well and working on that. Today was not as good as others, but I grinded.”
Justus and Tomcat teammate Logan Jones posted scores of 78 to share first place. Justus prevailed with a birdie in the playoff after hitting a gap wedge to about four feet of the flag. But Jones applied pressure by getting up and down from the sand to save par.
“He made me back off my putt to think about it,” Justus said.
On the girls’ side, Baylee Salyers of Flatwoods moved a step closer to winning EKJGA Player of the Year honors in the Grade 10-12 division, while McKinzie Walters of Rush locked up the Grade 7-9 championship for her third consecutive POY award.
Salyers carded a 92 to edge Catlettsburg’s Amber Greene by one shot.
“I’m looking forward to Wednesday to see how it all turns out,” Salyers said of the season-ending Walmart Tour stop at Mount Sterling Golf and Country Club.
Salyers, 15, is in her third year playing EKJGA tournaments.
“I think the tour is great for anyone for experience,” she said. “I started out in the 100s and 110s. The more experience, the more you learn and the better you get.”
Her highlight Monday was a sand shot from the lip of a green-side bunker.
“I had to squat down to get even close to the ball,” Salyers said. “It was a crazy lie, but I hit it to six or eight feet. I think that’s my favorite sand shot of all time.”
Walters shot 87 for her latest Grade 7-9 title.
“I was excited about the score,” the 12-year-old said. “I was good on drives. At the end, dad said I had a cracked shaft on my driver. He waited to tell me because he knew I would worry about it.”
Walters did just fine anyway, winning by eight shots. She was particularly happy about making par on No. 8, a par-3 over water.
“I never got on the green over the lake before,” Walters said. “This is a very challenging course.”
Walters came into the tournament with a 225-point lead in the Player of the Year standings for her age group and added 200 with the victory. Morgan Markwell, the closest challenger, did not feel well during the early part of the round and stopped after nine holes.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.