HARLINGEN – The 39th annual Gillman South Texas Junior Golf Classic played a little differently this year, but the event was a success and a good competition for youth golfers nonetheless.
The recent heavy rains that flooded parts of the Rio Grande Valley forced the Harlingen Country Club to close for a few days, pushing the tournament to a Sunday-only event. More than 50 boys and girls ranging from 6 to 18 years old competed in 11 groups, both in Little Linksters divisions that played nine holes and junior divisions that played 18. The back nine holes remained closed, so the first nine were played twice.
McAllen’s Esteban Gonzalez won the boys 15-18 division, which had the largest amount of competitors with 15 golfers. Gonzalez shot 72, which is par at the course, to achieve his goal of winning the STJGC championship.
“I’ve been trying to win this tournament for a long time. I play almost every year, it’s such a fun tournament, so I’m proud of myself for finally winning it,” Gonzalez said. “Over the years I’ve been practicing a lot, and my game progresses day by day. I just try to make the most of it, no matter if I’m playing good or bad. I just try to shoot the best score I can.”
Daniel Garza (74) of Palmview finished second. Maximiliano Martinez and Dylan Villarreal of McAllen and Brownsville’s Alejandro Ramirez all shot 76 to tie for third.
Gonzalez, 16, plays for McAllen Memorial and was the lone Valley golfer to advance to the 2021 state tournament. The STJGC win continues a string of strong performances this summer for Gonzalez, who has “shot a couple 60s” in preparation for a successful junior season.
Gonzalez said having the tournament be a one-day event instead of two did affect him some, but he was pleased with a short game that kept his scores low.
“It affected me because I felt like I didn’t have enough leeway to mess up. It was less holes so I couldn’t really come back if I did bad the first day, so I just grinded the entire tournament to make sure I didn’t lose strokes,” Gonzalez said. “I was hitting a lot of greens, but I wasn’t making a lot of birdies. I was able to make par putts from pretty much everywhere, so that helped.”
Carly Sherman of Bastrop, making her debut in the STJGC during her first trip to Harlingen, won the girls 15-18 division with a 74. Weslaco’s Jazlyn Segura (76) took second and Jordan Davis (80) of Round Rock finished third.
“It’s been really fun, and I really enjoyed it. The greens are in great condition, and I liked playing on them. I had a great experience here,” Sherman said. “Started off good with a birdie, got a little bit rougher toward the middle but I managed to recover with a couple more birdies and a chip-in.”
Sherman, 14, is an incoming freshman at Bastrop High and played up an age level for the competition. She used her short game and the benefit of playing the same holes twice to her advantage to aid her win. Sherman wants to return to the STJGC in 2022 to make it “two in a row.”
“I really liked playing the first nines because I could learn from my mistakes and adjust. Definitely my short game (helped me today). You can get away with a lot of bad shots if you have solid putting and chipping,” Sherman said.
Presley Bolado (78) of New Braunfels and Mission’s Lorenzo Garza (81) won the girls and boys 13-14 divisions, respectively. Isabella Pace won the girls 11-12 title with an 83, and Hezekiah Caldera of Weslaco shot an 87 to win the boys.
In the Little Linksters competitions, Jack Rogers won the 8-and-under division, Elsa’s Abraham Segura was victorious in boys 9-10, and Jay Gomez won boys 11-12. Isabella Ramirez of Brownsville and Karina Rios of Mercedes took first in the girls 9-10 and 11-12 divisions, respectively.
Members of the Southern Texas PGA Junior Tour event will receive points toward their Tour Championship score for their finishes at the sanctioned tournament. Gonzalez and Rios, two of Sunday’s winners, are the top-ranked players in their respective STPGCA divisions.