By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Shortly after securing the overall title at the Alabama Junior Golf Association Open Championship on Wednesday, Reagan Harrell was once again roaming the fairway on the first hole of the TP Country Club course — this time as a spectator.
“Now comes the fun part,” the Guntersville High golfer said with a grin.
While Harrell had already taken care of business with a two-day total of 2-under, Eli Marty and Sylas Elliott finished 36 holes deadlocked at 1-over, leaving the local golfers and good friends to duke it out in a sudden-death playoff for the 16- to 19-year-old crown.
In the end, though, it was Good Hope’s Marty who managed to best his Cullman High counterpart by smoothly sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-5 No. 1.
Marty hooked his second shot well right but caught a break when it bounced off a tree and rolled just off the fairway. From there, the lefty pitched his approach to the middle of the green and proceeded to sink what he called “the longest putt I’ve made in the past two days.”
“I actually had that putt earlier today, except a little bit closer,” Marty said. “I knew it kind of broke back at the end, so I just aimed at the right side of the cup, hit a good putt and it fell in.”
A two-time winner of the AJGO’s season-ending event, Elliott appeared poised to defend his title in the 16-19 age group with a birdie putt from just inside five feet on the par-5 18th hole. To his horror, however, the ball lipped out in the most wicked fashion, setting the stage for a showdown with Marty, who had already taken his clubs to the car.
“That was brutal, ruthless,” Elliott said of the near miss. “It wasn’t too long, so I was just thinking put a good stroke on it, don’t play any breaks, back of the cup. I don’t know if I pulled it or if it took off the club face like that, but it just caught the very inside of that lip and came right back to me.”
The playoff hole wasn’t any kinder to Elliott, whose second shot sailed right of the green and subsequent approach failed to find the dance floor. The Bearcat was eventually left with a long putt for par but never had the chance to take it after Marty drained his birdie attempt.
“I’m not too disappoined,” Elliott said of the second-place finish. “I mean, I got beat by Eli, so I know he’s a really good player. He’s one of my friends, so I can’t get mad at him. I’m happy for him that he won, but I’m happy that I got second, too.”
On the heels of a rock-solid 68 on Tuesday, Harrell started his second round with an eagle before scattering four bogeys over the next 16 holes. The 15-year-old narrowly missed an eagle putt on No. 18 but settled for a tap-in birdie to seal the deal and end the tournament on a high note.
Despite the winning effort, Harrell was his harshest critic following Wednesday’s 1-over 73.
“I wish I could’ve scored a little bit better. I played well in the first round, and it did help a lot,” he said. “I could’ve played as well in the second round. I just didn’t make as many putts as I did yesterday.”
The Guntersville golf phenom couldn’t be too down on himself, though, not after wrapping up the overall Open Championship, boys 14-15 tournament title and AJGO boys 14-15 Player of the Year award with his two-day showing. Harrell won nine tournaments and corraled one other top-10 result throughout the course of the AJGO season.
“It feels pretty good,” the youngster said with a mile-wide grin.
It’s been quite a summer for Harrell, who recently roped in the overall title at the Southeastern Golf Tour (SJGT) Championship in Gulf Shores and also picked up a slew of victories on the SJGT and AJGO circuits. He was just as sizzling in the spring, too, picking up co-low-medalist honors at the state tournament, where his Wildcats walked away with the Class 4A title.
“It just boosts my confidence in how I know I can play every time I go on the course and improve every day,” Harrell said of the string of success.
The AJGO also handed out its boys 16-19 Player of the Year award, which went to Layne Rice. The Cold Springs No. 1 won three tour events and landed in the top 10 eight times during the 2012-13 season.
Rice was none too impressed with his performance at the Open Championship — he tied for 15th at 11-over after carding an 82 on Wednesday — but couldn’t complain about the overall accomplishment.
“I don’t like winning it how I shot today, but it feels great to win Player of the Year,” he said. “Winning a bunch of these tournaments gave me a lot of confidence in my game. I’ll just keep working at it.”
Other local results in the boys 16-19 division were Trey Hanvey, T-sixth, 8-over; Lee Mattox, T-12th, 12-over; and Colby Sandlin, 20th, 18-over. Conner Stevens tied for 11th at 22-over in the boys 14-15 age group, and Holden Atchison was 13th at 74-over for the 13-and-under boys.
Bradi Ruehl (67-over) and Taylor Ruehl (93-over) were 11th and 14th, respectively, in the girls 15-19 division.
Hartselle’s Beth Ann Compton won the overall girls title and 15-19 championship at 21-over. Tuscumbia’s Hunter Battles (13-and-under boys, 13-over) and Hoover’s Carson McKie (14-and-under girls, 51-over) rounded out the respective winners.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.