Max VanderMolen, Elise Fennell Win GAM Junior Stroke Play Titles

   EAST LANSING – It was a day of second helpings for the champions of the 13th GAM Junior Stroke Play Championship Thursday at Forest Akers East Golf Course.

  Max VanderMolen of Richland won his second consecutive junior tournament, and Elise Fennell of Caledonia won the Junior Stroke Play title for the second time.

  VanderMolen, who last week won the 15-and-under title in the Michigan Junior State Amateur, shot a final-round 2-under 69 to go with his first-round 66 from Wednesday to win by three shots with a 7-under 135 total.

  Drew Miller of East Lansing shot a 67 for 138 and second place.

  Fennell, who won the 2019 Junior Stroke Play at age 13, shot a pair of 72 rounds for a 144 total and the win.

  Diya Brar of Detroit shot a closing 76 for 146 and second place.

  It was the fifth consecutive year that Forest Akers East as hosted the age group championship for boy and girl golfers in age divisions 13-15 and 12-and-under. 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.

  Champions of the 12-and-under golfers were also determined.

  JP Levan of Grand Rapids shot rounds of 35 and 34 for 69 in the boys’ competition to win. Thomas Thanaporn of Ann Arbor was second with a final 35 for 71.

  Saisha Patil of Okemos shot 38 for 77 to top the girls’ competition. Anika Srivastava of Okemos, who shot 44 for 83, was second.

  VanderMolen, who is 13, said winning tournaments in consecutive weeks was awesome.

  “I had a pretty rough year last year, and this year I’m having a really good year,” he said. “I went to Florida for the winter and worked hard on my game and its paying off. My short game got like 10 times better.”

   He made what he called two pretty bad bogeys on the front nine and missed short birdie putts on Nos. 10 and 11 but rallied at the par 5 No. 12 hole with an eagle-3.

  “I hit a 3-wood to about three feet and made it, that was big, got me back under par and then I made a six-footer for par on 17 to keep me up by three shots (going to No. 18),” he said.

  Fennell, who has a Caledonia address but goes to East Kentwood High School,  said this year’s win felt better that the one in 2019 because she has struggled with her game the last two seasons.

  “I’ve worked more on my short game than before, which really paid off,” she said.

  She said keeping her focus was the key to her win.

  “I was able to hang in there when I hit bad shots,” she said. “I didn’t really putt well today, but I made a few for pars that saved me and I had birdies on (holes) six and 11.”

  Following VanderMolen and Miller in the boys’ 13-15 was Brennan Sullivan of Grosse Pointe Park, who shot 72 for 142, Henry Delzer of Grand Blanc, who shots 74 for 143 and Vibhav Alokam of Ypsilanti, the recent GAM 14-and-under Match Play winner, who shot 70 for 144.

  Rounding out the top five in the girls’ competition behind Fennell and Brar were KT Leinwand of Kalamazoo, who shot 74 for 148, Lauren Davis of Coopersville, who shot 73 for 148 and Macie Elzinga of Byron Center, who shot 75 for 149.

  In the boys’ 12-and-under Levan and Thanaporn were followed by Tommy Preston of Grand Rapids, who shot 37 for 73, and defending champion Brady Berkemeier of Grand Rapids, who shot 38 for 74.

  In the girls’ 12-and-under Patil and Srivastava were followed by Madison Manning of Dexter, who shot 41 for 86, and Eleanor O’Grady of Grand Rapids, who shot 44 for 88.