You didn’t have to win the Upstate Junior Classic to leave Smithfields happy. While there were four age group winners there were eight other young golfers who earned a different reward for their play.
The long running tournament in Easley has become the last chance qualifier for young golfers to be added to the field for The Blade Junior at Thornblade Club later this month.
The Blade is arguably the favorite event on the South Carolina Junior Golf Association schedule, but over the years it has gotten more difficult to be selected to play in the event.
When the South Carolina Junior Golf Association took over the Upstate Junior Classic a year ago, the size of the field was shrinking and there was concern the tournament might not survive.
The SCJGA helped promote the event and also used it to reduce a growing challenge the association is having.
With more junior golfers competing, more playing opportunities were needed. The Association has expanded its tournament schedule, but the new and expanded events were often filled with the same group of junior golfers.
The SCJGA has offered exemptions into bigger tournaments as an incentive to increase the number of golfers playing in smaller tournaments like the Upstate Junior Classic.
Since many of the highly ranked players are already in The Blade, they often pass on the tournament so lower ranked juniors have an opportunity to compete for a spot at Thornblade.
This year a smaller than expected girls field competed for one spot in The Blade while a very healthy boys field had seven spots up for grabs.
Claire Green from Okatie didn’t win the girls division, but she did win the opportunity to play in The Blade.
In the boys tournament Tag Graziano won one of the seven spots available.
It will be the first trip to the big tournament for both golfers.
“I’ve heard about what a great tournament it is on a very nice course,” said Green. “I’m looking forward to playing and that was part of the reason I wanted to play here,” she said.
Green finished with a comfortable margin over the other girls hoping to win a ticket to The Blade. She is hoping playing in a big tournament will give her a chance to improve her game.
“This was the second time I played here (Upstate Junior) and I played better. I hope I can keep improving and play well at The Blade,” she said.
Graziano finished in a tie for ninth place, but was just one shot out of the first qualifying spot for an exemption into The Blade.
The 14 year old golfer from Hilton Head didn’t know his finish would qualify him to make a trip back to the upstate .
“I didn’t know about that,” said Graziano . “I just wanted to play in the tournament and have fun,” he said.
When asked if he would accept the exemption for The Blade and make a second trip from Hilton Head to the upstate, his father gave him the nod to accept.
“I didn’t expect this, but I’m looking forward to playing and see what happens,” said the incoming Hilton Head Prep golfer.
Joining Graziano in winning a spot in The Blade were Wyatt Harrill (Chapin), Jack Magera (Greenville), Jones Saylor (Bluffton), Granger Amick (Spartanburg), Mitchell McNeill (North Augusta) and Jeep Patrick (Hilton Head).
The winner of the girls division was Raquel Fowler from Greer. She recently graduated from high school and will play college golf next year at Southern Wesleyan.
Fowler shot rounds of 79 and 76 for a 155 total and the win. While it is not her last junior tournament before beginning college it was a big win for the future Warrior golfer.
“This will be my home course for the next four years. “ said Fowler. “I’m pretty happy I was able to play it well and win,” she said.
The course will play a little longer when she returns with the college team. Playing the shorter junior tees meant Fowler had to be more creative off the tee.
“I think I only hit my driver a few times. I was mostly hitting woods and hybrids. The best thing I did was not make any three putts,” she said.
Having a little more experience than some of the younger girls in the division also helped her maintain a sense of calm after starting the second round trailing first round leader Alexis Hodge from Lexington.
“I’ve learned not to think past the next hole, I play hole to hole and that helped me survive,” said the girls champion.
Dorman High School golfer Will Ruth won his second straight age group championship at the event. Last year he won the 12 and under title in a playoff, this year he didn’t need a playoff to win the 13-14 year old title.
“My putting saved me,” he said. “I wasn’t hitting the ball very well coming in here and it didn’t get better, but my chipping and putting made the difference,” he said.
Ruth had a 1-shot lead after the first round and added to it with a second round 76 for a 5-shot win in the age group.
The highest ranked player in the field played like the top player and won the overall boys championship.
Logan Lutz carded the only under par round in the tournament. His second round 3-under par 69 took the Mount Pleasant golfer from 4-shots back after the first round to win by 4-shots.
“I knew that even being 4-shots back going into the final round, if I could get to even par, I thought I could win,” said Lutz. “I didn’t get to even par, but I still got the win,” he said.
Lutz finished in front of first round leader Aiken Golightly from Rock Hill. Christ Church’s Jack Roberts tied with Greer’s Connor Rose for third place while Thomas Lamar from Columbia rounded out the top-5.
“I’ve won a Hurricane Tour tournament, but this is my first big win in a SCJGA tournament. It is going to give my confidence a boost,” he said.
Owen Atkinson from Columbia finished in front of Matthew Roff and Kingston Linder from Spartanburg for the boys 12 and under championship.
Many of the state’s top juniors will next tee off at The Blade Junior at Thornblade Club starting on July 22nd. This year the tournament has expanded to a 54 hole event with a cut after the first 36 holes.
Scores from the Upstate Junior Classic ay Smithfields. https://scjga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/scjga21/event/scjga219/contest/21/leaderboard.htm