Gabe Spach of Seattle won the 62nd Pacific Northwest Junior Boys’ Amateur, while Ellie Slama of Salem, Ore. won the 61st Pacific Northwest Junior Girls’ Amateur.
Both championships were held concurrently this week at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., and were conducted by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association (PNGA).
Spach, the No. 3 seed in the Junior Boys’ going into the match-play portion of the championship, sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 32nd hole to close out his match, 5 and 4, against runner-up Sean Kato of Redmond, Wash., the No. 5 seed.
Spach never trailed in the match, building a lead as high as 6-up during the scheduled 36-hole match. “I love match play,” Spach said. “I actually wish we had a chance to play more of these types of championships.”
Spach will be a senior in the fall at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, where he plays on the boys’ golf team and won a couple high school tournaments last fall. Earlier this summer Spach qualified for the AJGA’s Ryan Moore Junior Championship, and competes on the Northwest Jr. Golf Tour. He has committed to play for Seattle University after high school.
Kato was on Team Washington that won the Junior America’s Cup championship last month in Mexico, the first time that Washington had won the championship since 2007. He tied for fifth overall individually. He also won the WJGA District 2 Championship, and was named the 2016 WJGA Player of the Year.
In the Junior Girls’ final, Slama came from behind to overtake Brittany Kwon of Bremerton, Wash., 3 and 2. Slama and Kwon were the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, and the two titans put on a good show, having both marched through the bracket to face each other in today’s scheduled 18-hole final match.
They made the turn with Kwon holding a comfortable 2-up lead, after birdies on holes six, seven and nine. But once they made the turn, Slama kicked it into gear. On the par-5 10th, both players reached the green in two, but Kwon 3-putted and Slama 2-putted for birdie and she then won the next four holes in row to build a 3-up lead that Kwon simply couldn’t overcome.
“I don’t know why, but I was struggling on the front nine today,” Slama said. “Just couldn’t get anything going, and Brittany was really playing well.” With the wind picking up on the back nine, Slama’s length off the tee began to make a difference in the match. On the long par-4 13th hole, playing against a strong wind, Slama hit her tee shot into the middle of the fairway, while Kwon found the left fairway bunker, from which she had to blast out just to advance the ball at all. Slama then hit the shot of the match, ending just three feet from the hole, dropping the birdie putt.
Slama was named the 2015 PNGA Junior Girls’ Player of the Year. She will be a senior at South Salem High School, and last spring won the 2016 6A high school state championship. She has already committed to attend Oregon State University after high school.
Slama is familiar with The Home Course, having won the 2016 Pacific Northwest Junior PGA Championship held at the course in June, shooting a two-day total of 5-under par and finishing 13 strokes ahead of the nearest competitor, Kwon.
Kwon, 15, was trying to become just the seventh player to win this title multiple times, having won the Junior Girls’ title in 2014 as a 13-year-old. Earlier this year she won the WJGA State Championship and two other WJGA titles, as well as the 3A high school championship.
The rich history of the PNGA Junior Boys’ Amateur Championship includes past champions such as World Golf Hall of Fame member Fred Couples, Web.com Tour players Alex Prugh and Andrew Yun, and John Bodenhamer, the former CEO and executive director of the PNGA who now is a senior director at the USGA, as well as Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Famer Bruce Richards.
The storied history of the PNGA Junior Girls’ Amateur includes past champions Jo Ann Washam, Peggy Conley, Joan Edwards-Powell, Mary Budke, and JoAnne Gunderson Carner, all of whom would later be inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame after storied amateur and professional careers. Other past champions include current LPGA Tour players Paige Mackenzie and Jimin Kang.
To be eligible for the Pacific Northwest Junior Boys’ and Girls’ Amateurs, contestants must not have reached their 18th birthday by the final day of the competition.
These championships are two of 15 regional championships conducted annually by the PNGA.
Opened in 2007, The Home Course is cooperatively owned and operated by the PNGA and Washington State Golf Afor the 2014 U.S. ssociation, and has been the site of numerous local, regional and national championships, including being the companion course to Chambers Bay for the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the venue Women’s Amateur Public Links. It will also be the companion course to Chambers Bay for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.