Blue chippers: Young Parkites land spots in national tournaments
Summit County’s newest crop of competitive junior golfers are anything but green.
Jeremy Ranch Elementary School students Cole and Caylyn Ponich and Parker Cutt will attend the U.S. Kids Junior World Championships in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in August, though the trio already has a host of impressive exploits under their tiny belts.
"Everybody wishes that (they) had a kid like them," said Jake Hanley, an assistant golf pro at Jeremy Golf and Country Club who worked with them as beginners. "Their hard work, their overall positive demeanor and then at the same time, they’re competitive. You see them out here practicing all the time. It’s pretty neat that they’re going to be representing The Jeremy and Park City in some pretty big events coming up here."
Cole Ponich and Cutt will also attend the Callaway Junior Worlds in San Diego from July 12 through 16. Previous LPGA and PGA stars in the tournament include Tiger Woods, Craig Stadler, Amy Alcott, Phil Mickelson and Lorena Ochoa.
Ponich secured his spot with a 71 over 18 holes and Cutt tied for second and then won a sudden-death playoff for the final ticket to San Diego in the boys’ 7-8 division. Caylyn Ponich narrowly missed out, finishing second in the girls’ 7-8 division (in which there is just one qualifier).
Parker and Caylyn recently finished second grade, while Cole completed third. The three golf together often at Jeremy Golf and earned their distinguished national and international berths in six tournaments on the U.S. Kids Spring Local Tour, playing at Davis Park, Talons Cove, Valley View, Glen Eagle, River Oaks and the finale at Park City Golf Club.
Cole Ponich, who turned 10 this month, finished first in the boys’ 9-10 division with a qualifying score of 34 over nine holes to amass 170 overall points. He also played at the junior worlds last year
Having first picked up a club as a toddler, Cole played in tournaments since age 5 and is miles ahead of most other players his age. His father, Tom, is a scratch golfer and serves as his coach, while mother Becky mans transportation and caddy duties.
"I just watched my dad play and then started hitting golf balls in the house at 18 months," Cole said (plastic balls, that is). He made the local news in San Diego – the family’s original home before a move to Jeremy Ranch five years ago – hitting golf balls on the range at age 3. The Poniches have a putting green in their backyard, and Cole plays about four times a week.
"He’s always had a natural talent," Hanley said. "He’s got great parents, very supportive, and I think his work ethic is something else. He just loves hanging out on the range."
Any nine-hole round in the 40s is a disappointment to Cole, who already drives the ball 175 yards. The Player of the Year had actually received an exemption three days prior to the Spring Local Tour Championship at Park City Golf Club on May 29, but his parents kept the news from him so he would play his best.
He met that challenge, carding 37 for the championship. In fact, of the five junior tournaments he played in, he never scored higher than 44.
"He’s out here playing with other single-digit handicappers," Hanley said. "You can just imagine what he’s going to be like 10 years along, how cool and confident he’ll be."
Caylyn, who began playing competitively at age 7 and also dances for the Park City Dance Team, accompanied her brother to last year’s junior worlds, but her score of 48 left her three strokes short of pre-qualifying for 2010. Determined to test her brother eventually, she entered four of the tournaments and scored between 48 and 54 in each round.
"I started golfing because I’d watch (Cole), and then I wanted to play in tournaments," Caylyn said. One day, she vows, she will beat him.
"She’s a free spirit," Hanley said. "She loves getting out and trying to keep up with Cole. I think that’s a real driving point for her."
Caylyn was included in the field for the 2009 Callaway Junior Worlds, but missed qualifying for the 2010 event by just three strokes with a score of 48.
Her mother Becky said it can be hard to remain patient with junior golfers in a sport that demands so much mental discipline.
"I just learned the other day, you should tell them what to do positive, because they only remember the last three words that you said," Becky said. "When you tell them ‘Don’t hit it in there,’ they remember ‘Hit it in there.’"
Cutt also learned the game from his parents Greg and Amy. He played in only four of six of the U.S. Kids Tour events in his first year of competitive golf, but already he has earned his first trip to junior worlds. Cutt’s best score was a 44 at Davis Park, good enough to meet the minimum qualifying mark by two strokes.
"Parker is very determined," Hanley said. "He’s all business. For a little kid, you don’t see that too often. You can see he’s very focused and driven, and the results are coming on the golf course."
For Cutt and his chums, golf is truly elementary.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”