ASHLAND, Ky, — Max Lyons had a much better experience on his second trip to the AJGA Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior compared to his first cross-country excursion.
Alexia Siehl couldn’t have asked for a better experience in her first AJGA event.
Lyons, who is from Peoria, Arizona, missed the cut here last year. This time in the Boys Division, Lyons shot a 2-under 68 in the final round Friday for a 10-under 200 total and seven-shot win over Javier Delgadillo from El Paso, Texas. He was two shots off the tournament-record 198 set by Justin Thomas in 2009.
“I was so focused,” Lyons said after his early finish on the par-70 Bellefonte Country Club where it was lift, clean and place in the final round due to heavy thunderstorm that hit the area Thursday afternoon and delayed play. “Grind it, take care of myself. I still don’t realize what happened.”
Siehl closed with a 71 to finish at even-par 210 in the Girls Division and prevail by three shots over Ellen Dong of Longwood, Florida, and Bridge Ma of Windermere, Florida.
“This is crazy. I can’t believe it,” said Siehl, who is from Fort Mill, South Carolina. “I’ve worked so hard.”
Several players in the Boys Division had to return at 7 a.m. Friday to complete their second round. Players didn’t get regrouped for the final round, meaning Lyons went out in one of the early groups. He posted his number and no one behind him could make a run.
“I wasn’t worried about everybody else,” Lyons said. “If I could post under par, good. Three rounds like this is reassuring. My swing at times wasn’t fully there, but I still managed my game.”
Lyons only used his driver on Nos. 1, 2 and 8 on the front nine and 10th, 11th and 18th on the back. The first and 10th are par fives and he made birdie on No. 1 all three rounds. He drove the short par-4 11th Friday. The rest of the time, he went with 4-iron off the tee on the tight course.
“My main club all week,” Lyons said. “I put the ball in the right places. I’ll take course management.”
As for 2019 here, Lyons said, “Horrible. The game is so mental.”
Lyons heads back to Arizona to get ready for the high school season. He’s a junior at Sandra Day O’Connor High School. A former hockey and baseball player, he’s been playing golf for just 2 1/2 years.
Billy Gussler of Ashland and Nolan Haynes of Barberton, Ohio, tied for third at 2-under 208. Gussler shot 70 Friday.
Siehl, who’ll be a junior at Indian Land High School, does not play high school golf. She was paired with Dong and Ma in the final round. A birdie on the par-4 14th hole gave Siehl the cushion she needed for the home stretch. She now gets a full exemption on the AJGA and a boost in her bid to go on to play in college.
“We didn’t talk much at first,” Siehl said. “It was concentrate, not worry about everybody else. Stay calm, staying inbounds. The fairways are so narrow. Just worry about the next shot.”
Siehl citied No. 14 where she made birdie as the turning point. Ma would bogey three of the last six holes. Dong made bogey on the first half and a double-bogey 6 at No. 6.
“You could see her(Ma) lose a little concentration. It was time to strike,” Siehl said of her birdie at No. 14. “My confidence levl is sky high right now.”
This tournament is the longest-running AJGA event to take place at the same location. It began here in 1984 and came about this year about a month and a half from its normal June date. The AJGA halted tournament play from March through June 8 due to the Coronavirus pandemic/COVID-19. Since play resumed, the AJGA reduced the starting field to 78 players from the usual 144 to comply with social distancing. Spectator limit was one person per play and the holes on the greens featured Golf Ball E-Z Lyfts on flagsticks — a device that allows for touchless retrieval of the ball from the cup.