Junior Boys’ semis renew spirted friendship, spark showdown
BLUE BELL, Pa. — A soft-spoken newcomer, a lively lefty and a pair of Major wavemakers make up the semifinals in the in the 104th Junior Boys’ Championship.
Shawnee Country Club’s William Mirams, a Golf Association of Philadelphia newcomer, and Rolling Green Golf Club’s Andreas Aivazoglou posted two victories apiece Wednesday at Blue Bell Country Club (par 71, 6,444 yards). The two will square off tomorrow at 7:37 a.m. following a 7:30 a.m. bout between Ryan Tall of Spring Ford Country Club and Austin Barbin of the Junior Players Club. Both are fresh off match play appearances in the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship.
Coincidentally, a bit of Amateur déjà vu paved the path for a Tall/Barbin semifinal clash. In a Round of 16 rematch from a week ago, Tall again nipped Talamore Country Club’s Patrick Sheehan, 2&1. He did so this time with a walk-off eagle on the 17th hole (par 5, 470 yards). With a friendly lie in the rough, some 40 yards from a back right hole location, Tall opened the face on a 56-degree wedge, landed it on the upslope and watched it trickle into the jar.
“I was just hoping to get it close. It ended up hitting the hole,” Tall, 18, of Devon, Pa., said. “Patrick’s a great player. I’ve been able to squeak by him with obviously a couple of shots that went my way. I can’t say any more good things about him. He’ll be back in this tournament. Our match today was really fun.”
“What can you do?” Sheehan, 17, of Doylestown, Pa., said. “He got me again. I just feel like I let him in late in matches. [In the Amateur at Whitemarsh Valley], I three putted No. 15 [and lost that hole]. He just put the dagger in me this time.”
Like their battle at Whitemarsh, Sheehan held a 1-up lead until a three-putt on No. 15 (par 4, 430 yards). Tall gained the upper hand on the next hole (par 3, 160 yards) after stopping a smooth 8-iron at three feet. Sheehan, an incoming senior at Central Bucks East, conceded a 2 after failing to execute a sand save. An eagle chip from greenside left on the 17th hole to match Tall flirted for a fleeting moment.
As he walked off Blue Bell’s terrace Wednesday, Tall smiled and bumped fists with Barbin, a friend and familiar peer on the Junior circuit. Barbin edged Radley Run Country Club’s Nicholas Gianelos, 1-up, in a match as tense as an episode of “Stranger Things.”
With matters All Square entering No. 18 (par 4, 388 yards), both players arrived in the center of the fairway with nearly identical yardages. Gianelso, with honors, landed his approach on the green, only to see it release to the fringe. Barbin then flighted a 56-degree wedge 105 yards to eight feet. He buried a fist-pumping birdie after Gianelos left his attempt in the heart.
“I knew I had nine paces behind the flag there, so I could go back there a little bit and spin it. That’s what I did,” Barbin, 17, of Elkton, Md., said. “The putt was super hard to read. I didn’t know if it was going to be left-to-right or right-to-left, so I went with my first instinct and played it inside right edge. I hit it right on that edge and it caught that lip.”
A case of the hooks and blocks threatened to offset Barbin’s success Wednesday. Following his 2&1 victory over Huntingdon Valley Country Club’s Patrick Isztwan in the Round of 16, he called his father Andy, who recommended aim and posture corrections.
“I didn’t strike it that well this morning, but I went to the range after and got it all squared up,” Barbin, an incoming senior at Red Lion Christian Academy, said. “I didn’t make match play the last two years. I’ve been playing great lately this year. It feels great to be here.”
Aivazoglou, too, is thrilled to be a semifinalist.
“It feels great compared to last year, when I didn't make the Championship Flight after making it the previous year. It feels honorable to be back in that category,” Aivazoglou, 17, of Glen Mills, Pa., said. “Luckily I got the upper hand today.”
In his quarterfinal match against Reading Country Club’s Alex Seelig, the upper hand came on No. 7 (par 5, 496 yards), when Aivazoglou, an incoming senior at The Haverford School, salvaged a par from the waste bunker. Seelig, meanwhile, sent his drive out-of-bounds.
“It was quite obvious the tables turned there,” Aivazoglou said. He prevailed, 5&3.
Aivazoglou, a happy-go-lucky striper, is quick to strike up a conversation among his peers. He’ll need to needle his opponent if he wants to keep up with appearances Thursday.
“I was expecting to play one of the three friends I had in my portion of the bracket. [Mirams] beat them all,” Aivazoglou said. “I got to get a little vengeance for them.”
Mirams, a diligent competitor who lets his play do the talking, defeated Green Valley Country Club’s Andrew Wallace, 2&1, before breezing by a steadfast Kevin Smith of The Springhaven Club, 5&4.
Not bad for his Junior Boys’ debut.
“It seemed like a fun tournament to play in. It’s a strong field,” Mirams, 16, of Stroudsburg, Pa., said. “I wanted to qualify for match play since I’ve never played tournament match play before. It’s going pretty well. I’m playing good golf and making some putts out there.”
Two of those putts — a 40-footer through the fringe on No. 11 (par 4, 400 yards) and a 15-footer (par 3, 171 yards) — entrenched Mirams in the control room against Smith.
“My game’s been solid. I just got new clubs so I’ve been fighting that battle,” Mirams, an incoming senior at Notre Dame High School, said. “I’ve kept everything in play. I haven’t gone out of bounds yet, knock on wood. I’m making the putts here and there.”
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
Round of 16