MANAKIN-SABOT –– Richmond’s Adam Ball, 18, used an early second nine surge to score a 3-and-2 victory over Korey Watts, 17, of Buchanan to win Friday’s scheduled 18-hole final at the 22nd Virginia State Golf Association Junior Match Play Championship, which concluded today at the 6,805-yard, par 72 Hermitage Country Club Manakin Course.
A rising senior at St. Christopher’s School, Ball, also the 2011 champion, became the first player to post consecutive victories in the event since Mikey Moyers of Stanardsville took home the third of three consecutive Junior Match titles in 2009. Ball also became the first player to own two VSGA Junior Match Play titles while also having a VSGA Junior Stroke Play title to his name; he won the Junior Stroke in 2010.
“The VSGA has helped me grow in golf – and in life – so to be able to have my name on one of these trophies means a lot,” said Ball, who took home the Clyde L. Luther Trophy, honoring the former VSGA president and the association’s longtime former rules’ chairman.
The 18-year-old Ball who was competing in his last Junior Match Play before passing the age eligibility limit, finished his career in the event with an eight-match win streak. He also earned an exemption into next week’s 99th VSGA Amateur Championship, set for June 26-30 at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach. Ball plans on playing.
“I wanted to win for a second year in a row and get an exemption into the [VSGA] Amateur,” said Ball, who didn’t have a chance to try to qualify for the event because he was taking final exams at school. “That was a big thing for me. I want to play [in the VSGA Amateur]. This was huge.”
The finalists shared moments of brilliance as some fatigue likely settled in amid the sweltering heat and a combined four matches in two days that were humid weather-wise. Ball bested fellow central Virginian Griffin Clark (South Chesterfield), 4 and 2, in Friday morning’s semifinals, while Watts secured his first spot in the deciding match by defeating Chesapeake’s Ashton Newsom, 4 and 3.
In the final, Ball sustained his steady play the longest, winning three of the first four holes on the second nine to build a three holes up lead that he wouldn’t relinquish.
Ball began the stretch by scoring a par win at the par-4 10th after his opponent’s second shot came to rest in a tough spot in the right greenside bunker. But Watts, a rising senior at James River High School in Buchanan, put his shining short game on display at the par-5 11th, chipping in for birdie from short of the putting surface. Ball answered back, draining a slippery downhill left to right breaking 25-footer to earn an important halve and hold onto his slim lead.
“That would’ve been a major momentum swing, especially after I just won No. 10 to go 1 up,” Ball said. “After he chipped in, I knew I had to make it to keep my momentum going. It was huge to make that putt. It wasn’t an easy one, but I hit it right on my line and it went in.”
At the par-3 12th, Ball missed his only green on the second nine, but nearly chipped in, while Watts, bunkered off the tee to the right, missed his 13-foot chance for a halve. Ball then capped the run by registering a par-win at the par-4 13th. Watts, who made crucial putts and short game saves on the first nine, missed his six-footer for par to fall three holes down.
Watts looked ready to make inroads at the par-4 14th after Ball tugged his tee shot into a hazard on the left. Watts blistered his drive right down the middle of the fairway and appeared destined for a win at the hole. On his third shot from 147 yards, Ball played a knock-down 9-iron 25 feet past the flagstick and holed the ensuing putt, pumping his right fist as the ball tumbled in, securing what once seemed an unlikely par. Watts’ birdie chance from 16 feet right of the hole narrowly missed.
“That was the best putt I hit in a while,” Ball said of the gutsy par.
Ball closed the match at the par-3 16th, only needing to get down in two from 20 feet short of the hole; his short par putt was conceded by Watts to close the match. A decisive second nine proved to be the difference for the champion.
“My feet were hurting and my legs were tired, but going down the back nine and coming down the stretch, I told myself, ‘One last nine. Get some energy. I played well on the back nine,’ ” said Ball, the second low qualifier for match play.
Watts’ short game kept him in the match on the first nine. He made birdie from 24 feet from just off the green to square the match at the par-5 fifth, converted an up and down from the greenside bunker at the par-4 sixth and two-putted from 45 feet left of the hole at the par-3 seventh. Ultimately, his opponent’s consistency proved to be too much to overcome.
“My short game was good, but not much else was working well,” said Watts, the fifth low qualifier for match play. “Adam’s short game is as good as mine and he showed it today. When that happens, you have to beat him in ball-striking and that didn’t happen.”
For the ever-competitive and gritty Ball, the victory admittedly meant more than a spot in the VSGA annals. He dedicated the win to friend and fellow former junior golfer Trevor Times of Williamsburg, who passed away in a swimming accident in late May.
At the start of stroke-play qualifying on Tuesday, the VSGA gave each competitor a pin inscribed ‘T.T.’ as a way of remembering and honoring Times. During the course of the championship, Ball’s pin went missing. That was until Friday.
While Ball was walking up the eighth fairway in the final match, he looked down and, for a moment, could hardly believe his eyes. It was the pin, once lost but now found, glimmering in the sun. He picked it up and stored it in his bag. It seemed his friend was not far away.
“At the start of this week, I made a point to try to win this one for Trevor,” Ball said. “He was a great kid. I grew up playing junior golf with him for as long as I can remember. It’s really sad that he’s gone. It’s hard to believe. But just like when I found that pin on No. 8, he’s still with us and I’m glad I got the win for him today. He means a lot to junior golf in Virginia.”
It has proven to be an eventful week for the Ball family. While Adam’s father, Matt (pictured right), was watching his son win the Junior Match Play, mother, Kim, was also in central Virginia at The Foundry Golf Club in Powhatan, where Adam’s older brother, Matt Jr., is competing in the match-play portion of the Richmond Golf Association Amateur Championship. Matt Jr. secured medalist honors in stroke-play qualifying at the event.
“It’s a good day for the Ball family,” Adam said with a smile. “We’re busy around the house. Everyone is fighting for the shower, but this is fun. This is why we play.”
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