Elise Fennell of Caledonia, PJ Maybank III of Cheboygan Claim GAM Junior Stroke Play Titles

  EAST LANSING – PJ Maybank III of Cheboygan and Elise Fennell of Caledonia had some of their best days in golf and emerged as champions in the 11th GAM Junior Stroke Play Championship presented by Pepsi Friday at Forest Akers East Course.

  Maybank, a 14-year-old homeschooled golfer, followed up a personal-best round of 6-under 65 from Thursday with a 67 on Friday for a 10-under 132 total and five-shot win over Justin Sui of Lake Orion, who shot a closing 68 for 137.

  Fennell, who is 13 and will be an eighth-grader in the fall at Pinewood Middle School in Kentwood, shot a second consecutive even-par 71, which was her personal best score as well. Her 142 total topped two golfers who tied for second at 145; Sophie Stevens of Highland, who shot a final 73, and Bridget Boczar of Canton, who shot a personal-best 69.

  Champions were also determined in the 12-and-under age group category.

  Avery Manning of Dexter, who is 11, won the girls’ title with nine-hole rounds of 39 Thursday and a closing 37 for 5-over 76. Grace Slocum of Traverse City, who shot 44 for 88, was second.

  Grace’s 12-year-old brother, Joshua Slocum, shot 40 for 81 to win the boys 12-and-under title. Dominic Gaudino of Northville shot 45 for 93 and second.

  Maybank, who in 2018 was a Drive, Chip and Putt boys 12-13 national champion at Augusta National in Georgia, called winning the GAM Junior Stroke Play his best regular tournament win.

  “It is definitely right up there at the top,” he said. “This is my best 36-hole score and the 65 (Thursday) was my best score ever. Shooting 67 today was great. Sometimes you can’t really back up a good round, but I had another good round today.”

  Maybank, who made 13 birdies against three bogeys over the two days, said his driver early in the second round was sketchy.

  “But my wedges into the green were really good this week,” he said. “I hit a lot of shots close and here you have to take advantage of the holes you can.”

  Maybank wears two different golf shoes when he plays. He said it stems from an attempt to be flashy when he was younger.

  “Then I played really good when I did that, so it’s kind of my thing now I guess,” he said.

  His goals for golf are to play Division I in college and hopefully be a PGA Tour player one day. He thanked his long-time teacher Brian O’Neill, the director of golf instruction at the Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf in Orlando, Fla., who previously was a professional at the Boyne properties in Northern Michigan.

  “This was the most consistent I’ve played for two days,” Maybank said. “My game is trending is the right direction.”

  Fennell, who has won on the Meijer Junior Tour and the West Michigan Junior Tour this summer, won her first GAM and state title.

  “I started playing good a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “I got my putting finally going and I made a lot of putts. I came here and said I was going to win, and I did. I felt good about the way I was playing.”

   She started her round on the back nine on Friday and birdied holes 13 and 14.

  “That got it going from there,” she said. “My birdie putts were five footers on both of those holes. At 13 I hit a 9-iron in there, and on 14 I think it was a gap wedge.”

   Shooting two even-par rounds was a first for Fennell. She said breaking par in a round and tournament remains one of her goals, as well as playing college golf one day and getting rid of three-putts. Like Maybank, she thanked her teacher, too. She works with Cole Meinke, a PGA assistant professional at StoneWater Country Club in Caledonia where her parents are members.

  “I’m going to shoot under par soon,” she said.

  It was the third consecutive year that Forest Akers East has hosted the age group championship for boy and girl golfers. The tournament is designed for young players to gain competitive experience in GAM tournaments over two days. Players are allowed to play up a division if they choose. The 13-15 players played 36 holes of stroke play, 18 holes each day, while the 12-and-under golfers played nine holes each day.

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