Local amateurs lean on the juniors to tee off

Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Missouri State Senator Jason Crowell teed off during the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Classic Junior-Am on Monday.

Golfers got a kick out of playing with future professionals.

There was a lot of leaning going on Monday at the Junior-Am at the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Classic.

Junior golfer Ryan Sirman of Tyler, Texas, stood on the seventh green, feet crossed as he leaned on his putter in wait of a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 hole. Sirman had smoothly escaped from a sand bunker about 70 yards away, and he patiently waited for his amateur partners to escape their various troubles and join him on the green.

When the amateurs arrived, they witnessed Sirman roll in his birdie attempt to move to 1-under-par for his round.

The foursome that played with Sirman also did its share of leaning. They used many of Sirman's booming drives on their way to a handicapped 53, which led the 18-team field in the shamble format.

Southeast Missouri State baseball coach Mark Hogan, right, discussed the approach to a par 3 with 17-year-old Drew Miller, of Tennessee, during the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Classic Junior-Am on Monday.

"All day long," amateur playing partner Jody Underwood said with a shake of the head as he watched Sirman unleash another mammoth blast on the par-4 No. 9, the group's final hole of the day. "This kid is going to go somewhere. He's mentally tough. I might even get him to sign something."

Underwood, Aaron Dombrowski, Lee Smith and Seth Joy were treated to an 18-hole front seat as they made their way around the course with Sirman, an 18-year-old headed to the University of Oklahoma on a golf scholarship. Needless to say, they came away impressed.

"It's fun to watch," Dombrowski said. "I get caught up in the moment, just watching each shot. It's like watching an event."

Dombrowski then pointed to the championship tees and noted: "And he hits back here, which is all the more impressive."

Seventy amateur golfers were being treated to similar shows in the fundraising event, which will provide money for golf teams in the SEMO Conference high school tournament. Sixteen foursomes were each paired with a junior golfer, while two teams featured two junior golfers.

Robert DeHuff, 17 of California, muscled his way out of the woods on No. 14 during the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Classic Junior-Am on Monday. (Kit Doyle)

The event, which had a standard fee of $1,250 per foursome, gave some of the juniors their first glimpse of Dalhousie, recently rated the top golf course in Missouri by Golf Digest. The 144-player field, which features juniors from 29 states and Canada, will begin the three-day tournament today.

Sirman, who has played in AJGA events the past two years, was playing in just his second junior-am event. He played in his first one two weeks ago at Red Stone in Humble, Texas, and he was getting his first look at Dalhousie on Monday.

"I enjoy it and like getting to meet these guys," Sirman said. "They can give me some local knowledge of the course, and that really helps. It's just a lot of fun and it's one way to give back to people that help out the tour and help support it."

The feeling was mutual, as the local amateurs, many of whom are Dalhousie members, jumped at the opportunity to contribute.

"Not only do you get to play a great course, but it's great for all it does for junior golf, not only kids in this event, but golf programs all over Southeast Missouri benefit," said Corey McNew of Kelso. "Anything you can do with AJGA is well worth it."

Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson, right, received congratulations from his son Gunnar after sinking a long putt for par during Monday's AJGA Dalhousie Junior Classic Junior-Am tournament at the Dalhousie Golf Club. (Kit Doyle)

McNew was paired with Anne Ormson, a sophomore from Indiana.

"I played in an AJGA event before so I knew we were playing with good players," McNew said. "These kids can really hit it well."

Neil Miles of Advance was paired with Joshua Rabbit, who will be a senior in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"I've played golf since I was a kid and I wanted to support the junior program," Miles said. "I think it's a great way to support junior golf. I have a boy [Carson] at home, 7 years old, and I'd like to see him in something like this one day."

Rabbit put on a driving exhibition for his group, and Miles marveled at his ability to advance the ball out of the rough.

"It's impressive to see a 17-year-old hit the ball that far," Miles said. "He was definitely the best golfer in our group. He was a great kid, as polite as you could ask for."

The juniors came in all ages and sizes. Mike Wunderlich and his foursome found itself leaning on one of the smallest, youngest players in the field in 13-year-old Ginger Howard of Bradenton, Fla.

Howard stands 5-foot-1, weighs 105 pounds and opens eyes most everywhere she plays. Matched against college-bound 18-year-olds, Howard, who will enter eighth grade this year, recently placed fourth in an AJGA event. Golfweek Magazine has her ranked 135th in the nation among girls 18-and-under.

Getting her first look at the course with her father, Robert, the phenom worked her way around Dalhousie in about even par. Able to drive the ball 220 yards, Howard is also accurate and has an impeccable short game.

"It's a joy to watch her play," playing partner Mike Wunderlich said. "She's just so fluid and easy -- it's so much fun to watch. Here I am spraying it all over the place."

Chris Buehrle was paired with Courtney Harter, one of the top females in the field, who is headed to the University of Alabama.

Harter, a three-year veteran of the AJGA, was called on at the last minute to give an impromptu speech at the post-tournament luncheon and proved to be as flawless in her speaking as she is on the course.

"She's a great example of what the AJGA is doing," Buerhle said. "She's a real lady to be around and conducts herself well on the golf course, so obviously their program is working and paying off."

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