Jack Heath (Hailey Garrett/PGA of America)
In a down-to-the-wire, record-breaking thriller, Jack Heath, 17, of Charlotte, sank a stunning 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 72nd hole at the 44th Boys Junior PGA Championship at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford, Ct.
His round of 8-under par 62, which featured two eagles and six birdies versus two bogeys, gave him the clubhouse lead at 21-under par for the Championship.
“I knew if it went in, I would most likely win, and it went in,” said Heath. “It’s why I play golf.”
The putt also broke Chris Couch’s record for the lowest final round in championship history, set in 1990, by one stroke. In addition, Heath’s 259 total score (65-64-68-62 259) broke Akshay Bhatia’s record of 266 (in 2017) by seven strokes.
On the 18th green at Keney Park Friday, Heath had a relatively short wait before the only two players on the course capable of catching him and forcing a playoff would arrive.
Georgia Tech commit Andy Mao, 17, of Johns Creek, Ga., stepped up to the final stage first. His 30-foot birdie try slid by within a foot of the cup.
That left first-round co-leader and second-round leader Canon Claycomb, 17, of Bowling Green, Ky., who stood 20-feet under the hole. Claycomb’s putt wound towards the cup and lipped out. He tapped in for par and second place at 20-under par (62-64-68-66 260).
Mao (64-67-64-66 261) would miss his par putt and make bogey to finish third at 19-under par.
Heath, a rising Senior, whose Charlotte Catholic High School golf team is a two-time defending state champion in North Carolina, recently committed to San Diego State. He started playing golf at age two, because his mom, Kelley, didn’t want him staying in the house all day. So, Heath and his father, Ron, headed to the driving range.
“I loved it,” said Heath.
Fast-forward 15 years to Friday afternoon, when Heath received the Jack Nicklaus Trophy from PGA President Suzy Whaley as 2019 Boys Junior PGA Champion.
At the outset, Claycomb looked like he might be the one at the podium. He birdied four out of his first five holes (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5). He would add birdies at Nos. 10, 12, 14 and 16, for eight on the day. However four bogeys on Nos. 8, 9, 11, 13 would open the door for Heath to stand in the winner’s circle. The bogey at No. 13 proved pivotal, as Claycomb flew his tee shot over the par-3, 188-yard green into flattened long grass on an embankment behind it, and scrambled to lose a shot.
“I looked up at the leaderboard on No. 14 and suddenly saw I was only two back,” said Heath. “I knew if I got something going, I had a chance.”
His game would click on all cylinders, to the tune of 6-under par for the final seven holes of the Championship.
From 190-yards out on No. 14, he hit to within 20-feet of the hole on his second shot on the 512-yard par 5. Heath’s eagle putt rang true. A birdie on No. 15, would lead to a crucial birdie on the par-4 369-yard Hole No. 17, before his heroics on the final hole.
Earlier, on the par-5, 508-yard 2nd hole, Heath would begin his climb from a tie for fifth place after the third round to Champion, as he holed out from 45-yards for eagle, using a 58-degree lob wedge. A nearly costly bogey on No. 10 would prove not to be fatal, despite his initial concern.
“After No. 10, I knew I would have to do something crazy to win,” said Heath.
Heath joins a list of Champions that includes David Toms, Trevor Immelman, D.A. Points, Pat Perez, Sean O’Hair, Sam Burns, Brad Dalke, Couch and Bhatia. Meanwhile, Claycomb joins a runner-up list that features Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Boyd Summerhays.
Pretty good company.
“This means the world to me,” said Heath. “I worked hard over the past year-and-a-half, and it’s paid off. It’s a great feeling.”
“I shot 20-under for four days,” added Claycomb, an Alabama commit and member of the 2018 United States Junior Ryder Cup Team. “I’m real happy with how I played.”
It wasn’t the first time that Heath and Claycomb finished one-two in a Championship. A similar result occurred in the 2016 U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship at Pinehurst, when Heath took home his division’s title at age 14 by one stroke over Claycomb.
Brett Roberts, 17, of Coral Springs, Florida, closed with a 64 to finish at 18-under par and fourth place, three strokes behind Heath (67-66-65-64 262).
Third-round leader Jake Beber-Frankel, of Miami—who generated headlines across the country, after his all-time Championship round of 60 during Wednesday’s second round—struggled with his putter throughout the day to finish at one-over-par 71, and 17-under par for the Championship (67-60-65-71 263), in fifth place, four strokes back.
The third hole-in-one of the Championship occurred on Friday on the 203-yard, par 3 Hole No. 18 by Aidan Kramer, 17, of Oviedo, Florida. The Georgia Tech commit used a 5-iron. During the third round, LSU commit Drew Doyle, 17, of Louisville, Kentucky, recorded a hole-in-one on the par-3, 151-yard Hole No. 6 with a 9-iron. During the second round, Roberts also made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 13th Hole, with a 6-iron.