Young Mid-South golfers enjoy return of Overton Park Junior Open
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The youngest winner at the 74th annual Overton Park Junior Open had some sage advice for her fellow contestants.
“You have to stay focused, keep your eye on the ball and you need to pay attention,” said 8 year old Madeline West, champion among girls eight and nine years old in 2022.
“I got a lesson from her,” said Memphis based PGA Champions Tour legend Loren Roberts.
The 26-time winner on professional golf circuits devoted every day this week to the Overton Park Junior Open founded in 1948.
“I just love to see kids out playing on the golf course and competing and making friends. There’s a kind of fellowship with golf like no other sport,” said Roberts, who hung medals and stood for pictures with each set of runners-ups and winners. It was the first tournament on what is now called the “Overton Park 9″ after a complete multi-million dollar renovation of the nine-hole course founded in 1906.
Claire Hollingsworth, a rising junior at St. Benedict at Auburndale High School, prevailed in her 16/17-year-old girls age group with the golfing wisdom of senior players.
“I just try to play old man golf. I try to keep it in the fairway and then get on to the greens and two putt,” Hollingsworth said.
A dedicated group of 50 volunteers served the field of 144 players who finished the junior tournament.
Ke’Moni Milligan, a student at St. George’s Independent School, said he was less than enthusiastic about golf at first, but the game has grown on him as he became runner-up in his flight.
“I’ve gotten into it,” Milligan said. “It’s kind of fun now that I think about it. I can be in so much more tournaments and opportunities for bigger things: scholarships, school, stuff like that,” Milligan said.
The event had space for 200 players and some 167 signed up but the intense heat of Monday, July 11 and the challenge of the game sent some young players off to other pursuits.
“We got back to 144 first year! What’s this going to be in three or four (years)? Hopefully back to the biggest one in the United States,” said Vince Alfonso, who has invested the better part of his life as a PGA Professional teaching youngsters the grip, stance, swing and the million other little things it takes to project a golf ball from tee to green in the fewest number of strokes.
“They’re not doing this everywhere else, only Memphis, " said Alfonso, who now runs the golf program for Memphis Athletic Ministries.
The tournament was open to children eight to 17 years of age in the Mid-South who had a desire to play at any skill level and free of charge. In fact, all Memphis municipal golf courses allow juniors to play for free all year round in hopes of growing the game, making it more diverse and especially welcoming to children.
On the opening day of the 2022 Overton Park Junior Open, organizers matched players together and once the rounds were played and scorecards submitted, golfers of greater skill were paired one against the other in “flights.” Those of intermediate and lesser skill were assigned to play each other.
“Our main goal this week was to put on a first-class event for golfers of all skill levels,” said Dwight Drinkard, the co-chairman of the 2022 OPJO with Alfonso.
Both the chairmen remain dedicated to the Junior Open and had their first moment of junior golf glory in the tournament as kids.
“I was the runner up in the 7th flight of the 9/10-years-olds in 1959; I’ve still got the trophy,” Drinkard said.
The winners of the 2022 event received silver or gold medals awarded by Roberts with their age group and Champion or Runner Up status inscribed on the back. They can go back to the Overton Park Junior Open webpage from now until next July to savor the final results and look forward to the 75th tournament in 2023.
“This is a great place to be. Lot of friends out here. Golf is a great sport because you never perfect it. You’re always working at it. That’s what’s great about it,” Roberts said.
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