In photo: Champions from left, Kate Brody, August Meekhof, Max VanderMolen and Sophie Stevens.
YPSILANTI – August Meekhof of Allendale, Sophie Stevens of Highland, Max VanderMolen of Richland and Kate Brody of Grand Blanc were crowned age group champions Sunday in the inaugural GAM Junior Kickoff Championship at Washtenaw Golf Club.
Meekhof, a 17-year-old high school junior who is verbally committed to play college golf at Michigan State University, shot a 1-over 73 for 147 and a four-shot win in the open division.
Stevens, who is just 13 but was playing among the older girls in the open division, shot a 77 for 158 and a one-shot win over Nicole Whatley of Northville.
VanderMolen, 11, shot 79 for 156 and a two-shot win in the boys 15-and-under age group play.
And Brody, 14, shot 76 for 158 and topped the other girls in the 15-and-under bracket by 10 shots.
A field of 86 golfers played in the new GAM tournament that was created to give juniors an additional competitive offering early in the golf season.
Meekhof, who doesn’t play for his high school team and plays and practices at The Meadows at Grand Valley State, said he spent four weeks in Florida this spring working on his game and keeping up with his studies on-line.
“So, my game is in pretty good shape right now,” he said. “I thought I was hitting the ball well. My putting was off and I didn’t drive it all that well, but I hit some good iron shots and some good recovery shots.”
Meekhof said he struggled some on the subtle Washtenaw greens.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I made enough putts. I feel good about winning. I didn’t win a tournament last year, so this is nice to start off this year with a win.”
Shaunak Bhagat of Ann Arbor was second in the open division. He closed with a 73 for 151.
Stevens, fresh off a seventh-place finish in her age division in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National in Georgia, said her game was good overall.
“I hit some good iron shots,” she said. “I feel like I could have played better, but overall it wasn’t bad and I did get a win. I feel good about that.”
The home-schooled golfer said her putting picked up on her back nine after she made a long 30-foot birdie putt.
“I don’t even remember what hole it was on, but I felt better about my putting after that,” she said.
Whatley shot 80 for her 159 and second in the open division.
VanderMolen, who was second in his age group in the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, said his putter was working at Washtenaw.
“It was the best part of my game today,” he said. “I had a few really good putts for par that I made.”
It was the first GAM title for VanderMolen, who regularly plays against older golfers. Last summer at age 10 he was the youngest player to qualify for the Michigan Junior State Amateur.
“I practice in a dome in Kalamazoo in the winter, and I played in tournaments in Florida and Arizona,” he said. “I kept my game up. It feels good to win. I feel pretty good about my game.”
Ryan O’ Rourke of Bloomfield Hills shot 84 for 158 and second among the 15-and-under boys.
Brody, the daughter of two golf professionals, Doug and Jenn of Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, claimed her first win of any type in just her second year of competition.
“I’m really happy and glad my mom got to see it because it is her birthday,” she said. “It feels good too because my hard work is paying off.”
Brody said she sometimes plays too fast, but she took her time on Sunday.
“I stayed focused and had a pretty good round,” she said. “I’m also hitting the ball a lot farther. I’ve grown three inches since last summer and I’m hitting the ball pretty far. That was probably another factor in my winning today.”
Four golfers shot 168 to finish in a tie for second among the 15-and-under girls; Samantha Coleman of Northville, Adie Maki of Canton, Avi Gill of Northville and Sara Haupt of Northville.
-Greg Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org