YPSILANTI – Drew Miller of East Lansing and Sophie Stevens of Highland, a pair of 15-year-olds, emerged as overall winners in the GAM Junior Kickoff Championship Sunday at Washtenaw Golf Club.
For Miller it was a first-time win playing in the upper age division against 16-to-18-year-old players, and Stevens won among the older age players for the second time. She won the overall title two years ago at age 13, too.
New champions were also determined among those in the 15-and-under age group; Mason Sokolowski of Northville and Mia Melendez of Ann Arbor.
Miller shot a closing 76 to go with a first-round 70 for 2-over 146 tournament total and the title by two shots. Mitchell Strickland, another 15-year-old from Ann Arbor, shot a final 72 for 148 and second place. Justin Sui of Lake Orion, who shot 74, and Jack Zubkus of Ada, who shot 78, tied for third at 149.
“I’m really excited about this and it really gets me going for the summer,” Miller said. “I’m only a freshman in high school (East Lansing High) and I have a lot of time to play in junior events. This is a good season-opener.”
Miller said he avoided big mistakes
“I didn’t have any double-bogeys and I just kind of stayed steady the whole way,” he said.
He said getting up and down from in front of the green at No. 18 for par was critical.
“I actually looked at the leaderboard coming up 18 fairway and I saw (Strickland) was 1-under for the day, but I didn't look at what hole he was through, so I thought I had to make par coming in,” he said. “I did it and ended up winning by two, so bonus.”
Stevens shot a closing 74 for 5-over 149 and a five-shot win over Kate Brody of Grand Blanc, who shot a second consecutive 77 for 154. Bridget Boczar of Canton, who shot 78 for 156 was third, and Ryann Breslin of Alto, who shot 77 for 157 was fourth.
Stevens, who is home-schooled, said Washtenaw played tough and she had to adjust to the fast greens.
“It’s definitely a tough course and I had to really grind it out for the last few days,” she said. “I made some mistakes, but I played good enough to get through. This gives me a lot of confidence. My putting was better than usual on tricky greens and I’ve been working on some technical things in my swing and I feel pretty good about the way I played.”
Stevens hit a shot into a hazard at the par 3 No. 12 hole and made double-bogey but birdied 13 and 14 consecutively to stay in the lead.
“I was thinking this could be the end because I had trouble there yesterday, too,” she said. “But I managed to grind it out yesterday, and then today I managed to grind it out today too. The birdies really helped.”
Sokolowski, a Northville High sophomore, shot a final 73 for 149 and a two-shot win, his first GAM title.
Brian Tillman of Chelsea shot 77 for 151 and second place. Vibhav Alokam of Ypsilanti shot 76 for 153 and third and defending age group champion Griffin Mawson of Traverse City, who shot 76, and Max Vandermolen, an age group winner in 2019 who shot 77, tied for fourth at 154.
Sokolowski credited a hot putter for both days.
“I was really consistent and I made some long putts,” he said. “I worked on my putting all winter and I changed a few things and putted great. This feels great. I watched the leaderboard and knew I had the lead, and I was able to hold on.”
Melendez, a Greenhills Middle School student, won for the first time after four second-place finishes in recent years in age group divisions of GAM Tournaments.
She shot 76 for 155 and had to go one extra hole when she was tied after regulation with Lauren Davis of Coopersville, who shot 75 and made a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to force the playoff.
They played No. 13, a par 5 as the first playoff hole, and Melendez won with a par.
“I’m glad to finally get a victory after being second so many times,” she said. “I was really nervous when she made her birdie putt on 18. I didn’t expect her to make that and then I had to make by par putt (six feet) to tie. I just put it in the hole and then made a good par in the playoff.”
Washtenaw hosted the championship for a third consecutive year. A field of 130 boy and girl junior golfers played 36 holes of stroke play over two days.