Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

June 14, 2014

Sargent, Khamborn impressive Bluegrass Junior champs

ASHLAND — A sharpshooting Kentuckian and talented 14-year-old from Thailand stole the show in the 31st annual Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior.

Georgetown’s Billy Tom Sargent continued his birdie barrage at Bellefonte Country Club to pull away for a five-stroke victory.

Thanks to seven birdies in each of the last two rounds, Sargent finished at 8-under-par 202 — tying the third-lowest score in tournament history.

“It’s great feeling, really wonderful,” Sargent said outside the scoring tent. “I couldn’t have asked for better.”

Sargent’s back-to-back 65s just missed equaling the best combined second and third rounds by a Bluegrass Junior champion. In 2009, Justin Thomas closed 65-64 in setting the current tournament record of 198.

Meanwhile, the girls division crowned one of its youngest winners.     

Fai Khamborn speaks little English, but her smile lit up the course after she went wire-to-wire to win the title by six shots. It came in her first appearance at one of the American Junior Golf Association’s longest-running and most respected events.

“It means a lot to win this tournament,” Khamborn read off a sheet of paper during the awards ceremony. “I can’t wait until next year.”

Khamborn continues to play well in U.S. tournaments each summer while visiting an aunt and uncle in Cincinnati. And this week she made a run at the Bluegrass Junior record. Her even-par 210 was one shot off Leigh Anne Hardin’s standard set in 1999.

Khamborn followed up rounds of 70 and 72 with a 2-under 68 on the final day, capped by a birdie on the final hole.

After nearly holing her approach shot on No. 18, Khamborn made the two-footer and then hugged playing partners Haylee Harford — the tournament’s two-time defending champion — and Sabrina Long.

Harford, a Furman University commit from Leavittsburg, Ohio, was impressed with the winner.  

“Her game is solid,” Harford said. “She doesn’t make many mistakes out there. She was definitely focused and did her thing.”

Long (Alpharetta, Ga.) finished runner-up at 216. Harford, whose 217 total was better than her winning scores the past two years, placed third this time.

“I’m definitely disappointed, but it happens,” Harford said. “It’s golf. This was not my week to win, but that’s fine. I’m grateful to be here.”

Harford received the tournament’s Cameron Weis Sportsmanship award.   

The Bluegrass Junior started with a 144-player field representing 17 states and four other countries.

For Sargent, it marked his farewell to AJGA competition.

“It’s kind of sad,” said the Western Kentucky University signee. “It’s amazing to play in these events, especially here. I’m really going to miss it.”

Sargent left a lasting impression, including five birdies on the last seven holes.

“That’s definitely the way you want to go out,” said Sargent, who recently graduated from Scott County as a two-time Kentucky high school Mr. Golf winner. “I will remember this for a long time.”

Next week, Sargent will be playing on his home course — Cherry Blossom Golf and Country Club — in the Kentucky State Amateur.

Linus Lo, from Hong Kong, bettered Sargent’s final round with a 64 to finish runner-up at 216.    

For the second consecutive year, Elliott County High School golfer Ryan Gillum left Bellefonte Country feeling good about his performance.

He shot 72-73-72 this week to tie for 17th at 217. Last year, Gillum’s 213 shared eighth place.

“I had a good, solid tournament,” he said. “I didn’t make too many mistakes, just enough that I couldn’t get up towards the leaders at the end.”

Gillum, who turned 17 this week, ended on a strong note Friday with birdies on 17 and 18. A heavy shower began while Gillum was reading a 12-foot putt on No. 18.

“My partners probably wanted me to hurry, but I wanted to take my time and do everything I could to make that last one,” he said. “It’s been a real good experience, just a blessing really to be able to play in this tournament. Everybody’s good to you ... sponsors, members, volunteers. They treat you really nice.”

Gillum will also be in Georgetown next week. He won a State Am qualifier at Bellefonte two weeks ago.

Boyd County’s Drew Burke tied for 39th at 225 after a final-round 76. Huntington’s Josef Dransfeld also shot 76 and finished in a group at 226.

Carter’s Goodbye

Retiring Natural Resource Partners President and Chief Operating Officer Nick Carter, fundraising chairman for the tournament, stepped to the podium for the final time during the awards ceremony.

Carter spoke about the tournament’s success, including a “grand slam” of awards from the AJGA, and expressed thanks to one and all involved with carrying on the Bluegrass Junior’s proud tradition. NRP has served as the tournament’s title sponsor for 11 years and is committed to continuing in that role.

“We have told Bellefonte Country Club and the AJGA we will be here as long they want it,” Carter said later. “Time after time it’s proven to be well worth the time, money and effort. It’s been a labor of love.”

Carter told the crowd that every year one of the highlights of his life is to read the 144 thank you’s from participating players.

“They are funny, and heartfelt,” Carter said. “It means a lot to us when you talk about your favorite part of the event.”

On several occasions, Carter has helped shuttle visitors back and forth to BCC to help him stay in touch with their impressions of the tournament.  

At Tuesday’s Junior-Am Dinner, AJGA Executive Director Stephen Hamblin praised Carter for his leadership and active involvement through the years. Hamblin presented Carter with a monogrammed Titleist golf bag to a standing ovation.

While Carter is relocating in Lexington, he said he will come back next year as a sponsor and participant in the Junior-Am.

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

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