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June 7, 2014

SKILLS CHALLENGE: Youth golfers take first step on road to Augusta

MEADVILLE — The first Drive, Chip and Putt qualifier at the Meadville Country Club had its ups and downs. But all you had to do was look at the smiles on the faces of the winners and the downs, well ... they just didn’t seem to matter.

When PGA Club Professional Mike Ferry first heard of the Drive Chip and Putt competition, he was an immediate backer. And while he could not get a qualifier at the Country Club last year, he did not let the event wane. He kept on top of it and jumped at the chance this year when the Masters, PGA and USGA expanded the qualifying field.

As for those smiles ... that is just what Ferry was hoping for.

“The kids had a ball,” said Ferry. “It was a nice day for it. The superintendent did a good job getting things set up for it. And the members did a nice job letting us use a couple holes here. They like to see the kids out here too.”

One of the biggest smiles was on the face of Caledon, Ontario, Canada native Bavake Shiota. Shiota won the Boys 12-13 Division and posted the highest score of the competition with 139 points. Shiota tied for highest points by a boy in each of the three skills — the drive (38), the chip (36) and the putt (65) as well.

“There were some good golfers here,” said Ferry. “You look and Shiota had the most points of anyone and he is in the 12-13 age group.”

With his performance, Shiota advances to the Drive, Chip and Putt subregional on August 13 at Quicksilver Golf Club in Midway. He will be joined by 15 others, all striving to advance to the next round.

Shiota will be joined from his own division by Ryan Ferry of Meadville and Timothy Linhart of Erie. Ferry was on Shiota’s heels in every skill and placed second with 108 points. Linhart was third with 84.

In Boys 7-9, Conneaut Lake’s Matthew Longoria edged out Mehr Singh of Meadville on a tiebreaker. Both finished with 44 points, and the tie was broken based on points scored in putting. Longoria scored 40 in Putting, while Singh was not far behind with 35. Peyton Madden of Titusville was third with 14 points, although he did have the best drive of the top three.

Burlington, Ontario’s Peter Blazevic scored an 80 to win in Boys 10-11. Collin Jones of Meadville was second with 42 points.

Brandon Linhart of Erie took the blue ribbon in Boys 14-15 with 121 points. Ryan Peters of Saegertown was second with 95 points, finishing just ahead of Tucker Watson of Conneaut Lake (92).

Meadville’s Ava Jones scored 51 points to capture the Girls 10-11 title. Uniontown’s Adena Rugola posted a 44 to place second, while Conneaut Lake’s McKenna Longoria grabbed third with 36 points.

In the Girls 14-15 Division, Danae Rugala of Uniontown blasted the longest drive of the day to finish in first with 121 points. The only person to come close to Rugala off the tee was Rachel Wilson, who scored a 43 and placed second in the Girls 14-15 Division with 103 points.

“Everything went pretty smooth,” said Tournament Director David Wright of the Tri-State PGA. “There were a couple bumps in the road, but this is the first one for us too. We have five more this year. So hopefully we will get better.

Awards were also issued to the top three in each of the skills for each division. Earning a ribbon but not advancing to the subregional were Meadville residents Carson Jones, Arthur Esler and Franklin’s Michael Prince.

Jones scored 36 points in Boys 12-13 putting to place third for the skill. Esler and Prince each competed in Boys 14-15. Esler posted the top score in chipping with a 36, while Prince grabbed second in putting with a 51.

“The goal of the PGA, USGA and Masters is to reach 50,000 youth golfers,” said Wright. “I think we are headed in the right direction. (As kids see their friends advance), I think it will grow from here.”

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