Martin, Harford win at Bluegrass Junior
ASHLAND -- If there's ever a highlight reel for dramatic shots in the AJGA Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior, the one Haylee Harford pulled off on the par-4 18th hole Friday to cap the golf tournament's 30th anniversary at Bellefonte Country Club would merit being at or near the top of clips.
Harford (Leavittsburg, Ohio) drained a 50-foot putt from off the green to save par and clinch a second straight Girls Division title with the margin again just one shot. As the left-to-right breaking putt disappeared into the hole, a stunned Harford, who led by eight shots with five holes to play, did a sprint off the green and spectators watching the drama unfold clapped.
All Katie Page could do was drop her head. She knew she'd have to settle for second if she holed her short, par-saving putt which she did.
"I can't describe it," said Harford, who's given Furman University a verbal commitment. "It's truly amazing. The Lord blessed me on that one. They asked me if I wanted the pin in or out and I said leave it in. I was staring with amazement when it went in. I wasn't thinking of making it. I just wanted to get it close and make nothing worse than bogey."
Harford's par of a lifetime for now finished off a 75 and 54-hole total of 218, six shots lower than a year ago when she rallied in round three to win. She went wire-to-wire this time.
"A putt that long with that result. Never had anything like that before today," Harford said.
Page (Louisville, Ky.) closed with 74 for 219. Ale Walker (Paintsville, Ky.) posted a 72 for third at 220. The University of Kentucky recruit later was named recipient of the 2013 Cameron Weis Sportsmanship Award.
The Boys Division didn't have near the drama even though the winning margin was just one shot. Patrick Martin (Birmingham, Ala.) carded an even-par 70 in the final round for a 207 to hold off charging Nabeel Khan (Westerville, Ohio). Khan went out early and fired 66 for low final round and 208 total. Cooper Musselman (Louisville) also made a run with a 67, but settled for third at 209.
Harford led by eight going to the 14th tee thanks to birdies on Nos. 12 and 13. She pushed the drive on No. 14 right and into the water. After a drop, she put her next shot over the green. Her fourth shot sailed back across the green into a bunker. After she blasted out, she three-putted for a quadruple-bogey eight.
What once looked like a runaway turned into a tense struggle. And after a bogey on the par-3 15th, Harford was up just one on Page, who's going to SMU.
"Shocked," Harford said of the way she reacted to her drive on No. 14. "I usually hit the driver straight. I let up trying to avoid the trap and pushed it so bad. It was my fault."
Harford, though, showed her resilience down the stretch.
"It was very tough to get back in it mentally, I just had to calm down, gather myself, and make no more bogeys," she said.
At No. 18, Harford's approach went over the green and Page, who rolled in a long par-saving putt from off the green on No. 17, saw her second shot stop short of the green. Harford's attempt to bump her chip into the hill didn't work and the ball came to rest off the green 50 feet from the hole. Page's pitch stopped six to eight feet short. Harford's theatrics ruled out the chance for a playoff.
Harford, Page and Walker also had to deal with the slow-play issue. The players got a red card and extended red card, prompting them to run or walk quickly from the green to the next tee or to their shots after teeing off.
"I didn't worry at first, but I didn't want anyone to get penalty strokes," Harford said. "It was nerve wracking either way."
Martin, playing in his first AJGA open event, holed a 60- to 70-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 first hole and didn't look back.
"Overall I had good ball striking," Martin said. "My putting saved me. I felt exhausted at times, but you have to get through."
Martin had a tough mid-round stretch, but he righted the ship with a birdie at No. 14.
"I wasn't nervous today, but Nos. 9 to 13 were stressful," he said. "Once I birdied No.14 the nerves were gone and I was ready to finish up. "I didn't look at the (leader) board all day. I just kept going foward."
The win has its perks, one being exemptions into future AJGA events.
"(The win) means a lot, makes it easy to qualify and gives me confidence." Martin said. "This lets me know I can compete."
Bellefonte (6,009 yards) is one of the shortest courses on the AJGA circuit, yet being around or just under par usually is enough to be in contention.
"You think it's short, but it's tough," Martin said. "It's not a bomber's course. You used the short game when needed. For me, it was meant to be."