Spring Ford’s Tall orders victory in 104th Junior Boys’ Championship
BLUE BELL, Pa. — At the end of it all, only one man stood tall in the 104th Junior Boys’ Championship.
Ryan Tall, fresh off a semifinalist performance in the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship, defeated dogged newcomer William Mirams of Shawnee Country Club, 4&3, in the Final Thursday at Blue Bell Country Club (par 71, 6,590 yards). He is the first Spring Ford Country Club member to hoist the Peg Burnett Trophy.
“It’s crazy that I am even out here [being interviewed and] holding the microphone,” Tall, 18 of Devon, Pa., said. “I recognize so many of the recent names on that trophy. This is one of the best match play stretches I have ever had. I didn’t get off to the best starts but I hung in there.”
“It was definitely a grind out there,” Mirams 16, of Stroudsburg, Pa., said. “I played a lot of holes and hit a lot of shots this week. It was a great tournament to play in with a lot of great people on a great course.”
In the Final, Tall followed a script that’s delivered a 7–1 match play record over the past week: start slow, steady the ship and siphon your opponent’s strengths. He lost Nos. 2 (par 4, 452 yards) and 3 (par 3, 192 yards) to plunge into a two-hole deficit early: a hokey-pokey stance in the left greenside bunker and an uncharacteristic three-putt on the latter.
“I don’t know why I like making it hard on myself,” Tall, an incoming freshman at Lafayette College, said. “The first couple of holes here don’t really suit my eye. There are some narrow tee shots especially on Nos. 2-4.”
Next came steady Tall. Greens in regulation stitched wins on the next two holes and squared the contest. Mirams buried a 12-footer for birdie on No. 6 (par 3, 185 yards) to regain a lead, which lasted as long as a Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie. Mirams’ strengths throughout the week — tee precision, greenside touch and mid-range putting — suddenly became weaknesses. On No. 7 (par 5, 512 yards), an atypical shot spearheaded an equally-atypical eight-foot par miss.
“My left foot was just about to step into the bunker, but I couldn’t because I would have such a bad stance,” Mirams, an incoming senior at Notre Dame High School, said of his third shot. “When I swung, my left foot fell in the bunker and it just skulled across the green and into the rough.”
On No. 8 (par 4, 437 yards), Mirams, in an effort to acquire a favorable yardage and angle into the green, attempted to carry the right fairway bunker with a driver. Things didn’t go according to plan. A change in wind direction made matters worse as he splashed a 6-iron from 185 yards into the water hazard and lost the hole. Mirams’ sent his drive out-of-bounds on the next hole (par 5, 529 yards) and turned two-down in a flash.
“I was all over the place in the Final,” Mirams said. “I missed more fairways in that match than I did the entire week here. Around Nos. 7 and 8 is where I started to feel my swing starting to change for the worse. I wasn’t disheartened and I still thought I could make a run.”
That run never came. Tall added pressure by reaching the next three greens in regulation. Whenever he needed reassurance down the stretch, he glanced at the gallery: parents John and Susan.
“I wanted to talk to my family as much as I could on the back nine to keep me loose,” Tall, a recent Conestoga High School graduate, said. “There wasn’t any swing thought I had specifically but I wanted to stay aggressive. I wanted to keep playing the course the way that I saw it.”
Tall moved to 3-up on the par 3, 180-yard 12th hole after hitting a 6-iron to 12 feet. Mirams, however, caught the right greenside bunker with his 6-iron and failed to complete a sand save. Tall secured victory on the 15th hole (par 4, 445 yards). Both finalists carried the water hazard but didn’t clear the upslope. Tall nudged a wedge onto the green and nailed a 10-footer for par. Another mid-range look to match marred Mirams. He removed his trademark bucket hat and shook hands.
“There is a lot to take from this week,” Mirams said. “This was such a huge boost of confidence for me in knowing how I can play. Sometimes it is good to take a loss because it makes you want to come back and fight harder for the title next time.”
Winning won’t be a Tall order when that time comes.
“It was my goal to win coming into the week because this was the last time I could play in this tournament,” Tall said. “I am happy my family is all here and they were supporting me the last two weeks. Winning this tournament feels unbelievable.”
Although this match was back and forth, it wouldn’t seem like it if you were watching it live. It seemed like Tall was always in the fairway and Barbin was always in trouble.
“I only hit four fairways in the match, so I was never really in the hole,” Barbin, 17, of Elkton, Md., said. “Ryan was always in the fairway when I was struggling. I hit a lot of punch-outs and it could have been a different outcome if I could have hit it better off the tee.”
Barbin gained a 2-up advantage on Tall by birdieing the first two holes. Then Tall won the next two holes. From there, neither Tall nor Barbin was more than 1-up.
“Early on in the morning, the dew on the course left some moisture on my grips and I hit some terrible shots,” Tall said. “There are a variety of holes here and you can’t mentally check yourself out that early. I tried to tell myself to focus on certain holes to be aggressive on.”
Tall made what seemed to be a crucial error on No. 15, when he hit his second into the hazard and then grounded his club, resulting in a one-stroke penalty. Tall said he completely forgot he was in the hazard because of how short the grass was cut. But that stroke didn’t matter since Barbin made a par.
“I was rooting for Austin to make his par putt on No. 15,” Tall said. “If he missed it, I would have been mad that I could have halved the hole.”
The hole that decided the match was No. 16 (par 3, 165 yards). Tall stuffed a 6-iron to three feet and converted to take the lead. He held on by making a four-footer for par on No. 18 (par 4, 398 yards) to close out Barbin.
“Austin is one of the best Juniors in GAP,” Tall said. “He doesn’t allow you any breathing room. All of his shots are pure and he is a really smart player.”
“I had never made match play in the Junior Boys’ before,” Barbin, an incoming senior at Red Lion Christian Academy, added. “Last year I had the flu during the stroke play and in 2016 I didn’t play well. The Junior Boys’ Championship is a prestigious Junior tournament and I was happy to have made it this far this week.”
After Mirams defeated two of Andreas Aivazoglou’s friends (Andrew Wallace of Green Valley Country Club in the Round of 16 and Kevin Smith of The Springhaven Club in the quarterfinals), Aivazoglou was looking to get even.
But his plan didn’t succeed after Mirams defeated him, 3&2.
Mirams isn’t the longest player off the tee but focuses hard on what he has to do. This keen sense of attention is what he says helps separate himself in match play situations.
“I was feeling really confident considering how my first two matches went,” Mirams said. “I started 1-down through two but then I was able to win the next three holes. I know I just need to hit fairways. If I do, I know I can either make birdie or par from there. Then I’ll let my opponent make a mistake or have to match me.”
Mirams regained control of the match on Nos. 3-5. After Aivazoglou, an incoming senior at The Haverford School, hit it into the hazard on No. 4 (par 4, 435 yards), Mirams hit a 7-iron from 170 yards in the right fairway bunker onto the green and two-putted for the win.
“There are many ways to win holes,” Mirams said. “You can make putts, make a good save or just make par. The best thing is to hear a conceded putt because you know you could gain a hole and relieve some pressure.”
After Aivazoglou hit his tee shot out-of-bounds on No. 5 (par 4, 271 yards). Mirams commanded a 2-up lead and never looked back.
“Things just didn’t go my way today,” Aivazoglou, 17, of Glen Mills, Pa., said. “That’s golf. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. I felt solid coming into the match today because I really played well yesterday. It just hurts not being able to get the job done.”
“(Tall) and I are close,” Lofland, 15, of Paoli, Pa., said. “When he was a senior at Conestoga, I was a freshman so we had that senior-freshman bond. I was ecstatic when I saw him win.”
Lofland, who recovered from a nosebleed following his semifinal victory, gained momentum over McCabe on No. 11 (par 4, 445 yards). There, McCabe, an incoming sophomore at Devon Prep, airmailed a 7-iron from 170 yards. Lofland knocked a 9-iron 152 yards to 10 feet for birdie.
“It felt good to make it to the First Flight Final considering I chipped in [for birdie on No. 18] to win my semifinal match [against Joshua Ryan],” McCabe, 15, of Media, Pa., said. “I played well in my matches.”
The Junior Boys’ Championship is the premier Major in the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Junior Division. It is open to GAP Member Club golfers aged 14-18 who have not started their college education and who hold a handicap index of 14.4 or lower. Sixteen players qualify for match play; an additional 16 advancing into the event’s First Flight.
The Junior Boys’ Champion is awarded the Peg Burnett Trophy, named in honor of the Association’s Executive Secretary from 1951-76. Ms. Burnett was an ardent Junior golf supporter who emphasized sportsmanship and respect for the game. “I was very strict about checking the rule book. I didn’t make the rules, but since they are there, you have to abide by them.”
Golf Association of Philadelphia