BELLEFONTE Alexia Siehl knows how to make a first impression in her first American Junior Golf Association event.
The junior-to-be from Fort Mill, South Carolina, produced three solid rounds to win the 36th installment of the National Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior by three strokes on Friday at the Bellefonte Country Club.
Siehl doesn’t play on her high school golf team, preferring to compete on the junior circuit. The golfer’s first victory has already helped her achieve her primary goal.
“I just wanted to concentrate on playing a good round, not actually winning,” Siehl said. “I wanted to stay focused.”
“I have worked so hard for this moment,” she added. “This gives me full exemption. That’s was my main goal and its helps my ranking.”
The girls field managed to finish the second round before heavy rain postponed play on Thursday. Several players on the boys side finished early the next morning and officials kept the boys pairings the same in the final round.
Max Lyons’s performance shined as bright as the Arizona sun over the three-day event. He pulled away from a field of 51 players to win by seven shots. He finished 10-under par. Lyons traveled from Phoenix to play in the Bluegrass Junior for the second consecutive year.
He said he increased his course time since last summer to win his first AJGA event. He arrived in Ashland after a T-11 finish at a tournament in Wisconsin last week.
“I have been working my butt off this year,” Lyons said. “I’ve been working on the right stuff. Last year, I was pretty wild. That was my first year of AJGA. I just needed to practice a lot more. I worked on course management, missing in the right spots and taking what the course gives me. It’s a different mindset than most of the courses that I play.”
The shorter course changed Lyons’s strategy. He found success by picking his spots to attack and turned to his long irons off the tee.
“The biggest thing for me was not to try and overpower the golf course,” Lyons said. “There were some moments where I could hit driver to get close and use my short game to make a birdie. My 4-iron has really come in handy.”
The rain left the greens soft, but yielded a treacherous rough. Siehl and Lyons both said accuracy was important in the final round.
“It was also windy,” Siehl said. “That makes it harder when you hit driver and (fairway) woods. It tends to push some shots. I missed a few putts and hit some bad shots, but I know what I have to work on for the next tournament.”
“I knew the course was playing tougher today with the wet greens,” Lyons added. “We hadn’t had that all week. With the greens that wet, there was a difference putting and how they received wedges.”
Lyons entered the day with a five-shot lead. An opening birdie helped calm any final-round nerves and kept his focus on task at hand. He never checked a leaderboard until he was coming up the 18th fairway.
“I wasn’t really worried what anybody else was doing the whole day,” Lyons said. “I felt if I went out and shot under par, it would be tough to catch me.”
Grayson’s Connor Calhoun played with Lyons in all three rounds. Calhoun started competing in qualifiers in the sixth grade and has been a part of the field at the Bluegrass Junior for the last three years.
He finished all three rounds in the low 70s, but wasn’t pleased with the way he played the back nine on Friday.
“The first day I played really well with a 71,” Calhoun said. “The second day, I had a 73. It wasn’t too bad, but I was in the trees a lot. Down the stretch, I couldn’t keep it together today. I was 2-under through 10 holes.”
Calhoun will once again don maroon for the Ashland golf team as the Tomcats prepare to compete at Hidden Cove Golf Course today. He said playing against great competition at the Bluegrass Junior helps him prepare for the high school circuit.
“I’ve been in the field for a few years,” Calhoun said. “It’s always a great tournament. The course is always in great shape. It means a lot.”
Ashland’s Billy Gussler rolled in a birdie putt on his final hole of the tournament that propelled him into a tie for third place and secured his full exempt status on the AJGA tour for the calendar year.
“The birdie on No. 18 was really big for me,” Gussler said. “I knew that if I finished in the top five, I would be fully exempt. I didn’t know exactly where I was, but I knew I was around that region where if I made a birdie, it would be really helpful. It was still really big for my confidence going into my next event. It showed when I needed something, I could do it.”
Gussler said his experience playing in the event helped him endure a bad stretch of holes late in the final round. After consecutive birdies on No. 10 and 11, bogeys found the scoreboard for three straight holes.
“Every single day this week, I had a bad stretch of holes where I could have easily blown up and ended up with a bad round,” Gussler said. “I was glad I could keep myself together, keep my composure and keep a good round going.”
Siehl found distance on the leaderboard after her birdie putt on the 14th hole. After finding herself tied at the turn, she separated herself with the putter while her two closest competitors each bogeyed No. 16 and 17.
Siehl was the only player in the girls field not over par.
“I started seeing them lose some concentration,” Siehl said. “I felt it was my time to strike. My drives were really bad on the front nine, so I started hitting woods and got it close and made some putts. I wanted to finish strong.”
Former Boyd County golfer Olivia Hensley overcame a slow start on Wednesday to record scores of 71 in the final two rounds and finished in 13th place.
(606) 326-2654 |