Sports

They're in the swing

Jeff Strong, a junior at South Whidbey High School this fall, plays from the rough on the second hole at Useless Bay Country Club Wednesday during the Washington Junior Golf Association Tournament. - Matt Johnson
Jeff Strong, a junior at South Whidbey High School this fall, plays from the rough on the second hole at Useless Bay Country Club Wednesday during the Washington Junior Golf Association Tournament.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

About 150 of Western Washington's best young golfers made Useless Bay Golf and Country Club the site of an early summer showdown Wednesday.

The golfers, who were between the ages of 8 and 17, were at the South Whidbey course to try to earn spots for upcoming district, state and junior worlds golf tournaments, and to play against their peers -- an opportunity that is rare even during the summer.

Playing in the fourth of a series of six sub-district tournaments put on in Western Washington by the Washington Junior Golf Association, the golfers were most focused on making it to the District 1 championship tournament to be held at the Everett Golf & Country Club July 8 and 9.

Two of the players at Wednesday's event -- Jeff Strong and Hallie Mansfield, -- will be juniors at South Whidbey High School this fall. Mansfield shot a 100 on the 18-hole course, placing fourth in the 16- to 17-year-old age group, while Strong was 12th among 65 16- to 17-year-olds with an 80. His mark was good enough to qualify him for the district meet, though Mansfield fell a few strokes short in her bid to move on.

Strong's score also qualified him to participate in the state qualifier for the Junior World Golf Championship, a 36-hole event held July 2 at Tumwater Valley Golf Club. Five players will advance from Tumwater to play in the Junior Worlds in San Diego, Calif.

Birdies on the second and 11th holes helped Strong offset double bogeys on the fifth and 15th holes and stay close to tournament winner Mark Knue. Competing out of Mount Vernon, Knue led the pack with a score of 74.

Tournament director Leslie Fitzpatrick said the WJGA gives young golfers like the trio from South Whidbey regular and affordable opportunities to compete during the summer. Golfers pay $11 to join the organization and $17 per tournament. Other junior golf leagues can cost far more, Fitzpatrick said.

"It's an opportunity for kids to play in tournaments who might otherwise not be able to afford them," she said.

The WJGA sponsored its first tournament in 1977. That year, a young Fred Couples played his way to the first WJGA state championship.

Fitzpatrick said WJGA golfers play under the same rules that govern play at the high school and college levels. That means players must show up in regulation clothing and adhere to the general principals of sportsmanship. A golfer who allows his shirt to hang out of his pants or who throws a golf club risks disqualification.

"It's very serious," Fitzpatrick said. "This is how they will be playing when they get to college."

The WJGA's District 1 encompasses all of Island, Snohomish, Whatcom and Skagit counties, as well as the Olympic Peninsula.

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