Semifinal upsets set up fascinating #GAPJrJr Final
WEST CHESTER, Pa. — A new GAP Junior-Junior Boys’ Champion will be crowned.
Jax Puskar of Kennett Square Golf & Country Club stunned reigning champion and qualifying medalist Jack Homer of Wilmington Country Club in semifinals Wednesday, 1-up, thus preventing Homer from becoming the sixth player to capture consecutive Junior-Junior Boys’ titles. McCall Golf Club’s J.P. Hoban also advanced to the Final with a workmanlike victory over Hidden Creek Golf Club`s Paul Reilly, 3&2. The 18-hole Final will tee off at West Chester Golf & Country Club Thursday at 8 a.m.
Homer picked up right where he left off the previous two days by taking No. 1 (par 5, 436 yards) with a birdie. Homer hit the fairway off the tee, a feat he accomplished almost all day. He followed the drive up with a 6-iron 177 yards onto the green, 35 feet away from the hole. Two putts were enough for the hole. After struggling with iron play in both match-ups, Homer thought his woes would be reversed. Unfortunately for him, this was the only iron shot of the day that he didn’t pull.
Both competitors flexed their clutch gene on No. 3 (par 3, 115 yards). Homer’s tee shot landed in the right greenside bunker. He splashed out to five feet Puskar struck the ball right onto the green but ran his birdie putt 10 feet past the hole. He sunk the comebacker to halve the hole.
A forceful drive found the No. 4 (par 4, 365 yards) fairway, leading to a Homer par, compared to Puskar’s bogey, and another win, moving Homer to 2-up. With Homer being so efficient in his first two match-ups — he didn’t lose a hole — it would be easy for an opponent to lose some confidence. However, Puskar had a plan to stay focused, and stuck to it.
“I couldn’t give up,” the 13-year-old Kennett Square, Pa. resident said. “I’ve come all this way so I was not going down without a fight.”
Puskar’s comeback began on No. 5 (par 4, 310 yards) with a beautiful drive to the center of the fairway, 95 yards from the hole. With the help of his wedge, he found himself right in front of the green and next to his opponent. Puskar won a battle of chips, setting up a three-foot putt, compared to Homer’s chip that landed 20 feet away.
Puskar grabbed his second hole and lone red figure of the day on No. 6 (par 4, 320 yards). His shot off the tee landed in the right rough, 140 yards to the hole location. He used his 8-iron to knock the ball to the fringe, 15 feet away from the hole. While Homer was in the bunker, Puskar sunk the putt and tied the match.
The turning point of the match came at No. 7 (par 3, 145 yards). Puskar led off, using his 6-iron to knock it 15 feet from the flagstick. Homer landed in the far right fescue. After a three-minute search, and a glance into the nearby body of water, Homer took a penalty. Puskar’s confidence rose, knowing he had an easy two-putt for par. He won the hole with a 3 and took his first lead of the day.
Homer was now trailing in a GAP Junior-Junior match for the first time since No. 8 of last year’s Final at Flourtown Country Club. At this point, momentum swung the whole other way, and Puskar knew it.
“I got a lot more confident after this hole, and I was focused on keeping the lead,” Puskar said.
Homer let a golden opportunity slip out of his hands on No. 8 (par 5, 420 yards), as he missed an eight-foot putt for birdie, keeping him down by one entering the final hole.
Puskar’s mindset was a bit different entering No. 9 (par 3, 145 yards). His new strategy was to try to keep it simple. Both competitors darted the ball straight on the green, setting Homer up for a 15-foot putt, and Puskar for a 10-foot putt. Homer missed his first putt, and Puskar knew he had two chances for the win. He used his first putt to set up a tap-in and carded a par to win the match.
“It feels great to get this win and advance to the finals, especially because of how low my confidence was after the first day,” said Puskar. “I shifted my focus to playing a simpler game and it has worked out well for me.”
Seeding wise, Puskar’s victory may look like an upset, but Homer knew not to take his former PGA Jr. League Championship teammate lightly.
“I knew Jax would be a formidable opponent because I have been playing with and against him for years now,” the 13-year-old Wilmington, Del. resident said. “I didn’t expect him to roll over, and I was sure it would be a close match.”
Although Hoban won three matches and is a #GAPJrJr Finalist, part of it doesn’t feel real to him due to different restrictions caused by the global pandemic. Once reality settled in, he realized he just defeated Reilly to advance to his first Junior-Junior Final.
Hoban’s key to victory was to play safe. Instead of aggressively targeting every green, he assessed what his situation was, and punched out wherever he needed. Fortunately for Hoban, he wasn’t in too many difficult situations, as did not lose a hole all day.
Hoban started red hot with a birdie and win on No. 1 (par 5, 436 yards). He hit a lob wedge from the rough 35 yards to five feet.
Hoban struggled with No. 3 (par 3, 115 yards) the first two days off the tournament. He put down his 9-iron as it was causing him to rip it over the green each time. Today, he picked pitching wedge, landing 15 feet away from the hole. Knowing a two-putt would win the hole, he stuck to his safe strategy and set up a tap-in par.
After back-to-back halves, Hoban’s confidence skyrocketed.
“I knew the upcoming hole well, so I sort of felt like this could be the breaking point,” said Hoban.
He was correct. Hoban responded to Reilly’s bogey with a par, winning his third hole of the day.
Reilly’s last chance came on No. 7 (par 3, 145 yards). Off the tee box, the competitors were almost neck and neck. Unfortunately for Reilly, they remained neck and neck throughout the rest of the hole, and Hoban matched his par, claiming victory.
Hoban was the only competitor to wear long pants. To him, it’s kind of a “look good, feel good, play good” type of thing. You can bet that he’ll look the part in tomorrow`s final. If everything goes to plan, he’ll also feel good and play good.
Celebrating Amateur Golf since 1897, GAP, also known as the Golf Association of Philadelphia, is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 288 Member Clubs and 75,000 individual members are spread across the Eastern half of Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey and Delaware. The GAP’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
13. Jackson Puskar, Kennett Square, d. 1. Jack Homer, Wilmington, 1-up.
7. J.P. Hoban, McCall, d. 6. Paul Reilly, Hidden Creek, 3&2.
1. Homer d. 8. Nick Linkchorst, Glen Mills, 3&2.
13. Puskar d. 12. Ian Larsen, Honeybrook, 11 holes.
7. Hoban d. 15. Liam McFadden, Overbrook, 2&1.
6. Reilly d. 3. Fletcher Jones, Wilmington, 4&2.
Round of 16
1. Homer d. 16. Evan Hawkes, Yardley, 3&1.
8. Linkchorst d. 9. Zach Moua, St. Davids, 1-up.
13. Puskar d. 4. Mark Heinz, Huntingdon Valley, 3&2.
12. Larsen d. 5. Brady Crow, Moorestown, 3&2.
15. McFadden d. 2. Nick Werner, Wyoming Valley, 2-up.
7. Hoban d. 10. Sean Curran, Merion 10 holes.
3. Jones d. 14. Devin Carpenter, GAP Youth on Course, 10 holes.
6. Reilly d. 11. Evan Gross, Applecross, 1-up.