by Bart Potter
When Washington state hosts the Junior America’s Cup team competition this July, it will do so as defending champion.
The hosting part is an accident of timing – it’s Washington’s turn. The champion part is about timing, too – good golf at the right time.
Last year, in Guadalajara, Mexico, individual medalist Ryan Maine led Team Washington, which started the third and final day in second place among 18 teams, to a one-stroke victory over the team from San Diego, Calif.
All four Washington players shot under-par in the final round, and the three scoring team members played a composite 7-under par.
“It was pretty cool to see,” said Maine, of Rockport, Wash.
By the rotating hosting schedule, 2017 turned up Washington. The Home Course in DuPont, Wash. will play host July 25-27 to the 45th Junior America’s Cup, featuring four-player teams from 12 U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and two states in Mexico.
The Cup is the premier event of the summer for top Northwest juniors, said Tyler Johnsen, executive director of the Washington Junior Golf Association (WJGA). Other than possibly the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifying tournament, Johnsen said, “If you ask them what tournament they want to qualify for, this would probably be the one.”
Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., home to three professional majors since 1998, hosted the Junior America’s Cup in 1983 and 2000, and private courses have far more often than not been tapped as host venues. The Home Course, a public course that can stretch to more than 7,400 yards, will host the competition for the first time.
“Length is certainly one of its biggest defenses,” Johnsen said of The Home Course.
Justin Gravatt, PGA head professional at The Home Course, said while it’s not narrow off the tees, the greens and surrounds will test the young players.
“Hitting mid- and lower irons into these green complexes can be a real challenge,” Gravatt said.
Now in its fifth decade, the Junior America’s Cup has a tradition of showcasing high-level junior players. For Washington alone, JAC rosters in past years have boasted names like Fred Couples, Kyle Stanley, Ryan Moore, Joel Dahmen, Michael and Andrew Putnam, Chris Williams and Cameron Peck and, farther back, Rick Fehr.
Last year, Maine stamped his name as the latest Northwest junior to star at the Cup. Maine, then 17, led Washington at Guadalajara with a 54-hole total of 208, which earned low-scoring individual honors by two strokes over Cameron Sisk of San Diego. Maine’s 5-under 67 in the second round helped position the Washingtonians for their final-day surge to the team title.
“We went down there with no grasp of how we may do,” said Jim von Doehren, the adult captain for Team Washington. “On the first day, we hung around. On the second day, we got better.”
On the third day, Maine said, some bunkers at Guadalajara Country Club were filled with water in the morning from storms the night before. But the weather stayed nice, and Maine remembers how fun it was to hear the news, with von Doehren as the messenger from other foursomes and other holes, that his whole team was playing well.
“It’s a different feeling – you’re playing for a team, and it’s a different level of inspiration,” Maine said. “You want to play for the team, not just for yourself. To play with three other great players, it’s pretty special.”
Sean Kato of Bellevue led Washington in the final round with a 68 (213 overall). Carl Underwood of West Richland shot 70 in the third round, 218 overall, and Ian Siebers of Bellevue, a 14-year-old last summer, totaled 221, with a final-round 71.
“I was thrilled for them,” said von Doehren, who will be in his 15th year as captain when he takes his team to The Home Course in July.
Among other Northwest entries, Oregon made its mark in Guadalajara with a fifth-place finish with a quartet of Craig Ronne (from Klamath Falls), Spencer Tibbetts (Vancouver, Wash.), Samuel Pyon (Happy Valley) and Nate Stember (Portland).
Maine, a senior this spring at Freeman High School in Rockport, south of Spokane, is a two-time runner-up in the Washington state Class 1A golf tournament. He’ll play college golf at Washington State University next fall.
Before that, he said, he’d like to play one more time in the Junior America’s Cup. He’ll have to run a qualifying gauntlet, compiling points in two of three WJGA events plus the Junior World qualifier and the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier.
Any young golfer who makes it through those exams has earned his spot on Team Washington, von Doehren said.
“You have to be a very steady player to make the team,” he said.
While Washington hosting the Cup as defending champion is a coincidence of the calendar, it’s no accident that The Home Course – as the headquarters course for the Pacific Northwest Golf Association – is the venue of choice.
“The whole purpose (when the PNGA acquired the course) was to promote the game, grow the game and host championships,” said Gravatt. “It is a feather in our cap to host a championship like this.”
Bart Potter has taught journalism at a public college and private university, and won awards for sportswriting and news reporting as a daily journalist. He manages the golf and travel website, greygoateegolf.com.