FRAMINGHAM, Massachusetts – Rebecca Skoler (Pine Brook CC) posted a two-round score of 6-over par 152 at Framingham Country Club to capture the 2018 Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship title.
Skoler’s wire-to-wire victory was a crowning moment in Framingham on Thursday following the conclusion of two-day event which featured four divisions and competitors who ranged in age from nine to 18. In addition to Skoler’s overall Championship victory, the following divisional winners were honored: Silver: Emma Abramson (The Ridge Club) ; Junior-Junior – Olivia Arone (The Ridge Club); Mite – Maddie Smith (Mount Pleasant GC).
Competitors who also showed the most improvement from Wednesday to Thursday were recognized with most-improved-golfer medals. Sophie Redmond (Shaker Hills CC) will also have her name engraved on the Pippy O’Connor Trophy after posting the biggest improvement across all divisions. Redmond, who is just nine years old, bettered her first-round score by 10 strokes in Mite Division play.
Skoler Goes Wire-to-Wire to Win Championship Division
With a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship, Rebecca Skoler (Pine Brook CC) knew that it was her tournament to lose.
In the end, the rising junior at Beaver Country Day School fought off a bad start for a wire-to-wire win at Framingham Country Club. She finished with a two-round score of 6-over par 152, which was one stroke ahead of Anne Walsh (The Country Club) and four better than last year’s champion Emily Nash (Settlers).
“It was kind of grind out there today, but it was a lot of fun,” said Skoler, who spent the past two years studying and training at both the Winsor School in Boston and the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy in Clermont, Florida. “I started the summer off really well and have not played the best the last few weeks, so this one leading into September of my junior year when I can talk to coaches is very nice to have.”
This marks Skoler’s first Mass Golf Championship victory. Her name will now be etched on the same trophy that was won by the likes of past greats such as Joanne Goodwin and Noreen Friel as well as modern-day LPGA stars Brittany Altomare andMegan Khang.
“That is amazing,” said Skoler when asked about the significance. “That is just awesome and so cool.”
Skoler entered the final round with a three-stroke lead but a double-bogey, bogey start allowed the rest of the field inch closer. In fact, Molly Smith (Mount Pleasant GC) who was one of four three back of Skoler to start the day, had drawn within just one stroke through three holes.
“After the first two holes I knew just to not get ahead of myself and to stay calm and stay in it,” said Skoler. “I know that I can make birdies when the time comes, and they will start to drop. I had a 30-foot putt on hole three that I drained. That was really nice, and I was happy to make that putt.”
That birdie on the 295-yard, par 4 3rd hole led the way to two more birdies made by Skoler on the 5th and 7th holes. She made the turn at 2-over par 38 and enjoyed a three-stroke advantage at the time.
“None of the birdies I was really expecting to make which was kind of nice,” said Skoler. “I started to get a little worried, but I knew just to stay in it and the birdies would drop.”
Following a bogey on the 10th hole, Skoler would card her fourth and final birdie of the day on the 384-yard, par 5 12th hole. It was a hole that proved key especially after Skoler registered a bogey on the 368-yard, par 5 14th hole.
“I wasn’t too happy after the first few holes, but I was able to make some birdies and come back sort of,” said Skoler about the ups and downs of her 6-over par 79 final round. “I was playing pretty well at the beginning of the back nine until No. 14, the par 5 with the really hard pin placement. I had an eight-foot eagle putt and ended up bogeying the hole. It was a really hard pin placement. After that I think that I lost a little bit of momentum and confidence, so I didn’t finish as strongly as I would have liked to, but I am so happy that I won.”
Most of the disappointment from her finish quickly faded, however, when Skoler learned that her performance over the two days in Framingham was enough to claim victory.
“I knew today that if I wanted to play well then I would have to play smart like I did yesterday,” said Skoler. “That is not hitting driver off the tee a lot and just giving yourself a distance on the par 5s to hit into. Otherwise it can be a little hard, and it can put you in tough places.”
During the awards ceremony, Maddie Cordeiro (Belmont CC) and Bimba Carpenter (Myopia Hunt Club) were recognized as the most-improved golfers for the Championship Division Both competitors bettered their day-one scores by five strokes on Thursday.
Silver Division Highlights
Emma Abramson (The Ridge Club) jumped out to a six-stroke lead after day one, and she never looked back en route to capturing the Silver Division title.
“I feel very good. I thought that I played well,” said Abramson, a Sandwich resident who is just 12 years old. “When I had a few bad shots, I would say that you just have to keep on moving forward and you have to finish strong.”
Following that first-round score of 91 on Wednesday, Abramson battled another day of warm temperatures to not only maintain her lead but extend it by one stroke over the field. She finished with a two-round score of 187, which was seven strokes better than Emily Hunt (The Ridge Club).
“My chip shots were my best,” said Abramson. “I had good speed control getting to the hole.”
One the highlights from Abramson’s round came on the front nine where she sent a chip shot on one of the par 5 holes “very close” which set up a make-able putt that she converted.
“Winning the division makes me feel very happy,” said Abramson. “Knowing that I can go out and compete against older kids makes me very happy.”
One shot back of Hunt in third place was Alyssa Patterson (Norfolk GC), while Haley Lee-Burke (Westborough CC) and Kaitlyn Willett (Charles River CC) rounded out the top five in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Capturing the most-improved-golfer honor in the Silver Division was Hunt, who bettered her day one score by eight strokes.
Junior-Junior Division Highlights
West Newton’s Olivia Arone used a 1-under par 35 on Wednesday to propel her to victory in the Junior-Junior Division. Arone, who was part of a division that played 9 holes on both Wednesday and Thursday, posted a 2-over par 38 on Thursday for a two-round score of 1-over par 73.
She finished one stroke ahead of Jillian Johnson (Hatherly CC), who posted the best round of the second day, an even par 36, to secure second place overall with a score of 2-over par 74.
“It was a lot of fun and that is the most important thing,” said Arone, a 13-year-old who attends the F.A. Day Middle School. “I am really happy with how I did.
Arone, whose day-one score featured an eagle and two birdies, began Thursday’s round by making par on her first three holes. She came back from a double bogey on the 4th hole with a birdie on the 6th hole to lead her towards her first career divisional victory.
“You can meet so many people,” said Arone when asked what makes golf so special. “It takes a good amount of time so you can get to know everyone and make a lot of new friends.”
Following Johnson on the leaderboard was Erika Redmond (Shaker Hills CC), who posted a 4-over par 76. Piper Jordan (Boston GC) and Eleanor Parkerson (NEPGA Jr Tour) rounded out the top five in the Junior-Junior Division.
Johnson was recognized as the most improved golfer in the Junior-Junior Division after bettering her day-one score by two strokes.
Mite Division Highlights
Over a two-day period and 18 holes of golf on a challenging Framingham CC layout, Maddie Smith (Mount Pleasant GC) carded two eagles and five birdies. Her two-round score of 3-under par 69 earned her a Mite Division victory.
“I feel great,” said Smith. “When I got upset I just focused and said that I am going to do better.”
Smith began her Mite Division title pursuit on Wednesday and played her first three holes at 2-under par thanks to her first of two eagles of the day on the par 4 3rd hole. She finished that day with a score of 1-under par 34 which gave her a one-stroke advantage over Kyle Heffernan (Twin Springs GC).
On the final day, Smith was able to add to her lead by one stroke with a 1-under par 35 round that included three birdies and four pars. She finished two strokes ahead of Heffernan, who finished second, and five better than Evelyn Parkerson (NEPGA Jr Tour) who captured third place.
“It’s very fun,” said Smith about what makes golf great. “You can have an off day or a good day, and it’s fun to play with friends.”
Last year’s Mite Division winner, Champa Visetsin (MIAA) finished fourth, while Sophie Redmond (Shaker Hills CC) made the move of the tournament. Redmond bettered her first-round score by 10 strokes with a final-round score of 2-under par 34. It marked the lowest scores posted over two days in the division and her improvement from day one to day two was the greatest across any divisions.
As a result of that accomplishment, Redmond was awarded the Pippy O’Connor Trophy given to the event’s overall most improved golfer.
Growth at the Grass-Roots Level
While the field of Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship competitors were completing their rounds on Wednesday, there was a group of next generation golfers who were learning the basics as part of a summer clinic series run by Framingham Country Club.
The clinics are offered to junior golfers from the club who range in age from four to 14. Similar to the increase in participants in the Mass Golf Championship Proper being held in Framingham this week, interest in these clinics is growing especially for young girls.
Graham Cunningham, head golf professional at Framingham Country Club for nearly a decade, has been leading the charge at the club level to grow the game from its most nascent level.
Along with a supportive membership, Cunningham has combined his growth mindset with an extensive background in coaching and training to develop a program that is one of the most effective in the state and perhaps beyond.
“When I started here about 10 years ago we had hardly any kids,” said Cunningham, the New England PGA 2015 Teacher of the Year and 2014 Youth Player Development Award winner. “If we had six kids in our junior program that was good. Getting the program to grow over the years has taken some time, but from a membership recruitment and retention tool it is as good as it can get. Almost every family that joins is pretty young with kids for the most part. Giving them something that the kids can go into and learn the game and from there hooks the family into the club. Chances of them leaving after that is pretty slim.”
Providing programs that embrace young families has been a successful mix with a club that boasts a rich history dating back to the late 1800s. The club was officially incorporated in 1902 and has had some of the greatest golf course architects such asDonald Ross, Arthur Blanchard and Geoffrey Cornish, to name just a few, play a role in building what is considered a challenging golf course that can challenge both the low and high handicappers.
Access to the course is something that the membership has embraced as a key element for allowing the younger players to develop the same love of golf that the oldest members have enjoyed for decades.
“Getting the kids playing a lot is one of the big keys,” said Cunningham, a Hopkinton native who currently works with many of the top junior amateur golfers in the state. “A lot of time people will just do clinics or camps, but if the kids don’t get on the golf course and actually play they have no idea what it is they are doing in class and why it is important. There is no translation between that and the game.”
Growing the number of female competitors has been a keen focus for not only Cunningham and his staff but for the golf industry as a whole. The growth of national programs such as LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, PGA Junior Golf League and the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship has resulted in what industry leaders are saying is an unprecedented increase in national participation. For instance, LPGA*USGA Girls Golf is reporting that in just the last seven years the program has seen a 1,400% growth in participation with the program increasing its reach from 4,500 girls in 2010 to 72,000 girls in 2017.
“It’s exciting as a former collegiate golfer to see girls start so early,” said Laura Nochta, a former collegiate golfer at Indiana University who now serves as Mass Golf’s manager of NEGA operations & USGA qualifying. “There are so many more opportunities to play at the junior level and beyond and even in college.”
As a result of the merger in January between the Massachusetts Golf Association and Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts, Mass Golf is now – as one unified organization – able to provide young golfers with a broad range of playing opportunities for the youngest to the most competitive.
For instance, this week’s Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship features four divisions which allows for competitors of ranging ages (9 to 18) and skill levels to compete in the same event. It results in instance camaraderie and creates immediate role models for the younger players.
The Championship Division starting field included several Division 1 golf commits including Emily Nash (Elon University) and Angela Garvin (University of Maryland). Yet playing on the same course and being honored during the same awards ceremony in Framingham this week were 10 year olds as well as 18 year olds with higher handicaps.
“This event has a rich history, and now we are seeing more young girls have a chance to experience this state-wide championship,” said Cathleen Beach, Mass Golf’s director of women’s events & player development. “If you look at the list of past champions, these young girls have a chance to be a part of an impressive group of champions who are also amazing women.”
Past champions of this event include names that even the youngest competitors would recognize such as current and former LPGA Tour players Megan Khang, Brittany Altomare and Alison Walshe as well as Woburn native Noreen Friel, a three-time Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Champion who competed on the 1978 Curtis Cup Team and then went on to serve as captain of the United States team which was victorious at the 2010 Curtis Cup held at Essex County Club.
At the local level, Cunningham has seen first hand that the interest and focus of young girls is real and growing yet also presents a unique challenge for those looking to harness the love of the game at such an early age.
“A lot of times, the most important step is getting them out on the golf course with their peers and not just with their parents,” said Cunningham. “We let the parents go out because there needs to be some type of parental monitoring, but once they get out there and play it is pretty amazing how if they had no instruction at all how good they get fast.”
In addition to being one of the first certified USA National Junior Golf Team coaches and founder the Hawk Golf Academy, Cunningham also has personal insight into women’s golf. His wife Andrea Ackerman Cunningham is a former golf professional who was a two-time Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Champion. After capturing the Mite Division title in 1989, Andrea won the overall title in 1993 and 1995.
“I see more little girls being introduced to it earlier,” said Cunningham, who has two girls of his own who are 8 and 4. “We had 65 kids in our spring junior program and about 45 percent were girls. It is good because when you do it in the groups it is social and it is super fun for them because they have other girls.”
If the scores of happy faces at the post-event ice cream social following the conclusion of play on Thursday is any indication, the future of girls’ golf is indeed as bright as they all say.
NEWS & NOTES
Junior Week: This week was a true salute to junior golf in the Bay State. While the Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship was concluding in Framingham, the Junior Amateur Championship was being contested just 24 miles down the road at Belmont Country Club. This year marked the first time in recent history that the Junior Amateur Championship, which is open to girls and boys under the age of 19, featured stroke play and match play over a four-day period.
Pro Sighting: Chip Johnson, the longtime golf professional at Hatherly Country Club and the 2003 New England PGA Teacher of the Year, was on site Thursday at Framingham CC. Johnson, an accomplished player who competed in the 2014 Senior PGA Championship, was cheering on his daughter Jillian Johnson who was competing in the Junior-Junior Division.
Role Model: Many of the competitors may not have realized that this week’s event was being managed by a former Division 1 standout player. Laura Nochta, who joined the Mass Golf staff in 2017, earned All-Big Ten honors while at Indiana University and went on to compete on the LPGA Symetra Tour. While an amateur growing up in Cortland, Ohio, Nochta won the 2010 Ohio Women’s Amateur Championship.
MIAA Student Member Program Reigns: In its second full year, the Mass Golf’s MIAA Student Member program has opened the door for juniors to obtain a Mass Golf/USGA GHIN Handicap Index directly through Mass Golf at no charge. This complimentary service provides junior golfers with the ability to become more connected with the sport during a time when they might not have a direct connection with a local course. This year’s Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship field includes four golfers who obtained a GHIN Handicap Index through this program. Member Clubs that sent three golfers each to this week’s event include Belmont CC, Cyprian Keyes GC, Mount Pleasant GC, Nashawtuc CC, NEPGA Jr Tour, and The Ridge Club.
Family Time Up Next: While this week marks the end of the highly competitive Mass Golf opportunities for female golfers, the next few weeks will see many of the team tournaments contested at sites across the state which will feature many of the participants in this year’s Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship.
Mother & Daughter / Member & Junior
August 15 @ Highfields G&CC
Mother & Son
August 16 @ LeBaron Hills Country Club
Father & Daughter
August 20 @ Renaissance