Local golfer Will Hedges earns individual victory at Kansas Junior Optimist golf tourney
photo by: Coutesty photo
After a few years of competing in the event, local golfer Will Hedges finally broke through with an individual victory during the Kansas Junior Optimist golf tournament last Friday at the Emporia Golf Course.
Hedges, who just completed his junior year at Bishop Seabury, shot 69 (-2) and had to win a four-hole playoff to net the individual victory. The victory qualified Hedges for the Optimist International Golf Tournament at The Doral Golf Resort in Florida in July.
“I’ve been able to qualify but I’ve never gotten first or second or anything like that,” said Hedges, who has been competing in this event for four years. “I was super excited to finally pull it off this year, and there’s a lot of really good players so it was definitely exciting.”
The Optimist Junior Golf Program is a unique program for ages 10-18, where boys and girls around the world compete in official Optimist qualifying tournaments. The best of these golfers — those that finish near the top of the leaderboard — then advance to the annual Optimist International Junior Golf Championships.
Hedges, who last made it to the championship event three years ago, is returning this summer after a clutch victory last Friday in Emporia. Not only did Hedges have to play four extra holes to win a two-player playoff with Pratt’s Zachary Vandervoort, but he had to record a birdie on the final hole to even go into the clubhouse tied for the lead.
Even though he didn’t know the winning score, Hedges entered the 18th hole aiming for a birdie to try to break 70.
“You always want to break 70, it’s always just a fun goal,” Hedges said. “Little did I know that shooting a 69 is what I needed to get into the playoff. But I still had the pressure on myself just because I wanted to shoot 69.”
Hedges used his 4-wood on the tee shot, putting it in the middle of the fairway about 110 yards from the green. From there, Hedges put the ball 20 feet from the pin on his second shot. He then nailed the long putt to end up in first place.
“I was like, ‘Uh oh, this is going too far right,'” Hedges said of his putt. “Then it slipped in on the right side and I kind of put my hands up in the air and jumped a little bit. I walked into the clubhouse and they said someone else shot 69. So I was like, ‘OK, now the fun begins.'”
Hedges and Vandervoort matched each other through three holes (first, seventh and eighth) before finally separating on the ninth hole. The last hole was a par-five, with Hedges needing to come through with a big hit with his wedge to get through a gap in the trees.
Hedges then closed it out with two putts, capped off by a nerve-wracking two-foot putt for the win.
“Playing against him, I was definitely nervous,” Hedges said. “The heart was definitely beating, my hands were definitely getting sweaty. As the playoff holes kept going, I got more calm and comfortable with the situation.”
Hedges had a lot of success on the greens on the day, making a number of long putts to find a groove with his short game. His birdies came on the third hole, fourth hole, 11th hole, 13th hole, and final hole.
“Now that I’ve gotten more in the summer, I’ve worked on the scoring parts of my game,” Hedges said. “I’ve worked on my chipping a lot and I worked on my putting especially. Putting really helped me at this tournament.”
It was a solid start to the summer slate for Hedges, who is coming off a 13th-place finish at the Class 2A state golf tournament this past spring. Hedges will now compete in multiple events leading up to the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships, which for his age group (16-18) is a multi-day event slated to take place between July 24-29.
“I’m super looking forward to that,” Hedges said.