Guts and glory
The 15-to-18 boys division of the Junior World Championships has been called the centerpiece division of the world’s most prominent age-group golf tournament.
It might also be the tournament division that gives Aidric Chan the inspiration to power the underdog men’s team to the gold in the 30th Southeast Asian Games golf tournament.
Chan, the young ace out of club tournament heavyweight Manila Southwoods, did the country proud by ending a 33-year Philippine drought in the highlight event of the Junior World—a feat he accomplished in dramatic fashion.
Chan nailed a clutch birdie on No. 16 to edge New Zealand’s Jimmy Zheng by one at Torrey Pines North in San Diego, California, on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
“I’m so happy to have won the title again, not just for me but for the country,” Chan told Inquirer Golf. “This will inspire me for my stints for the national team and the next chapter of my career at University of Arizona.”
The 18-year-old Chan will need all that inspiration for the SEA Games, where he will spearhead a men’s team that faces tall odds in its gold medal bid in the biennial meet that the country will host late this year.
But going by the gutsy stand Chan produced at the Junior World, gold and glory in the SEA Games may not be exactly a pipe dream.
Chan displayed peerless grit in the last two holes as he ground out two pars to preserve the lead he took on 16, where he plopped in a pin-length putt for birdie.
Chan closed out with a 69 for a 72-hole total of 277, beating Zheng, who finished with a 71 for a 278.
“I worked hard for the past few weeks and took some time competing on international soil and trying to finish well,” Chan said. “My putting has been well for the whole week and I knew I had to make it (putt on No. 16).”
“But I still had I had to play smart on the last two to buck the pressure,” said the incoming University of Arizona student.
Chan’s victory comes 33 years after Carito Villaroman, now a teaching pro, ruled the elite division in 1986, when that age-group was confined to players 15 to 17 years old.
And it came on a big day for Philippine golf.
About 4,600 kilometers away, on the opposite US coast, Yuka Saso matched Chan’s guts and rallied to rule the 2019 Girls Junior PGA Championship in Hartford, Connecticut, also on Friday.
Almost mirroring Chan’s victory over Zheng, Saso overtook erstwhile runaway leader Rose Zhang and then beat American Jensen Castle by two shots with a final-round 67.
“Winning in the United States is really special,” Saso said in a statement released by the PGA of America. “It’s really hard to do since I live in Asia. I’m just really happy and thankful.”
Saso helped the Philippines tab two golds in last year’s Asian Games but she will not be around to join a women’s team favored to medal in the SEA Games.
Zheng was headed for a wire-to-wire victory but floundered in the final round with a 73, leaving Saso to deal with Castle and Amari Avery, who finished third, three strokes back. Zhang finished tied for fourth with Alexa Pano, five behind Saso.
“My goal this week was to play steady and have fun,” Saso said. “I think I did that well.”