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Zimmerman, Raines rule at Tour Championship

Oscar Zimmerman, left, and Leila Raines claimed GJT Tour Championship victories.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – For Oscar Zimmerman, motivation was easy to find at the Golfweek Junior Tour Championship this weekend and it came in the form of recent bitter memories.

Oscar Zimmerman

Having shot 77 on his home course at U.S. Open qualifying the previous week, Zimmerman turned that disappointment into a greater commitment to perform well at the GJT Championship at the University of Kentucky Club’s Big Blue course.

“I prepared for this week with a little fuel added to my fire,” said Zimmerman, a high school senior who graduates next week then will play for Santa Clara University. “It’s my home course and I’ve played there (in Open qualifying) the last three years and haven’t got anything close to what I wanted.

“That really made this week that much more important to get the win.”

A week of tweaking a wayward driver paid off as Zimmerman broke out of the gates with an 8-under-par 64 in the first round and followed with a pair of 70s to beat Jordan Gilkison by five shots in an event disrupted by second round torrential rain and altered tee times that saw tournament leaders forced to play separately and in different waves.

Jordan Gilkison

Zimmerman finished his second round early Monday morning then went straight to his final round which he finished three shots ahead of Gilkison who had not yet started his final round.

The unorthodox final round left Zimmerman playing wait-and-see while Gilkison took aim at a number.

“It was super weird,” Zimmerman said. “Having those guys on my heels and playing in the morning just took some of the pressure off that would have been there had I been in the final group (with Gilkison). But it was challenging getting only five hours sleep last night, but it was fun.”

After finishing the second round early Monday morning, Zimmerman led by one over Gilkison who also fired an opening-round 64 followed by a 71 Sunday. Zimmerman would then post birdies at 5, 9, 10 and 14 for another 2-under 70 and 3-shot lead.

“It eased the nerves knowing I just had to keep the pedal down and shoot the lowest score I could. I knew he was capable of shooting another 64.”

On 9, Zimmerman hit a booming drive that left him with a routine up-and-down for birdie then he nearly holed his 105-yard approach on 10 for an easy birdie. His 9-iron from 155 yards to 3 feet at the 14th ended his scoring and gave him enough of a cushion as Gilkison would shoot 74 in his attempt to catch Zimmerman.

Zimmerman would hit it close again at 16 and 18 but saw both birdie putts lip out. In the end it was the culmination of a weekend in which Zimmerman found an accurate driver that had been missing a week earlier.

“I was happy how my driver was really good,” said Zimmerman, who admitted that with length off the tee being one of his strengths, accuracy eludes him too often. “Getting that driver in play and often in the fairway was something that was very big for me and led to my low scores for three days.

“The length has always been there. With my (swing) speed if I get a few degrees left or right the misses will be big. I hit maybe four fairways at the U.S. Open qualifier . . . I think I only missed three on Saturday.”

Zimmerman shot 64-70-70—204 and was followed by Gilkison, a 2021 grad, at 64-71-74—209. Sudarshan Yellamaraju finished alone in third place with rounds of 68-70-72—210.

Rounding out the top five was Campbell Kremer (68-73-70—211) and Drew Salyers (71-74-66—211) who shared fourth-place honors.

Raines goes wire-to-wire

LEXINGTON, Ky. – For Leila Raines, Monday’s victory in the Golfweek Junior Tour Championship may have signaled her game’s return back to her glorious campaign of 2017.

Leila Raines

In 2017, Raines experienced the highs of junior golf at its best. Heading into her sophomore year of high school, that summer Raines won an AJGA event, qualified for and competed in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, won the Ohio Junior Girls Championship and committed to play golf at Michigan State University. Since that big year, Raines has been tweaking her swing to achieve bigger things down the road and hasn’t quite matched those stellar results of 2017 . . . until now.

Raines opened the GJT Championship with 4-under-par 68 the first round to take the lead and she never looked back, riding some steady driving and iron play to follow up with rounds of 72 and 73 to beat Laney Frye by two strokes.

“I’ve never been the longest hitter of the golf ball,” Raines said. “We’ve been trying to add a few yards to my drives and irons and I feel like working on trying to gain distance your consistency might not be as sharp as it used to be. That’s one thing we’re trying to keep in check while still trying to gain distance.”

Laney Frye

Raines was long enough on the University of Kentucky’s Big Blue course this week which included 10 birdies and an eagle, which she notched on the par-5 No. 5 in Saturday’s opening round.

Battling through weather delays like the rest of the field, Raines remained with her opening-round pairing throughout and built a 5-shot lead over UK-bound Frye who would play the final round four groups ahead.

Frye made a nice charge with a 2-under 70 to apply some pressure, but Raines was not about to make any big mistakes despite a wobbly putter. Raines’ only mistakes would come on the greens and not cost her too many strokes and would include several 3-putts the final day.

“Saturday, I putted really well,” said Raines, who recently switched from a left-hand-low putting grip to a claw grip. “I had at least two (3-putts) each of the last two days. I try not to think about my past three-putts, but my putting can certainly be a deciding factor if I shoot a good score or not.”

Raines believes her new grip is more conducive to faster greens, which she saw on Saturday before torrential rain hit the second round. With softer greens “I sometimes try to force the stroke to try to get the ball there.”

Getting the ball to greens, however, was not a problem for Raines.

“My short irons were really good,” Raines said. “It’s a pretty short course so you have to take advantage of your wedges and make some putts. The last two days were a little tougher because of the weather; it was softer and playing a little longer, so I knew around even par would be a good score to put out so that was my goal the last two days.”

With one more year of high school, Raines has set some more goals that include a repeat of 2017 and beyond. She lists once again winning an AJGA event and playing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur again, but also qualifying for the U.S. Junior Girls Amateur.

Frye finished alone in second place at 69-76-70—215 and was followed by Georgia Southern-bound Hailey Katona who fired rounds of 73-78-69—220. Jocelyn Bruch, a Purdue commit, shot 73-75-74—222 to finish alone in fourth place while a trio of players tied for fifth: MTSU-bound Molly Bebelaar (77-73-73—223), Faith Martin (72-78-73—223) and Nicole Whatley (76-74-73—223).

Wotherspoon beats Wilson in Boys 14-15 playoff

Rylan Wotherspoon

Rylan Wotherspoon hit his approach to 6 feet and drained the ensuing birdie putt on the first hole to defeat Joe Wilson IV in the Boys 14-15 Tour Championship.

Wotherspoon shot 68-73-75—216 and led the whole way until Wilson caught him the final morning. Wilson fired rounds of 70-73-73—216 and finished his final round Monday morning then had to wait on Wotherspoon.

Wotherspoon seemed in control heading into the final few holes of regulation, nursing a 3-shot lead with just four holes remaining. He made bogey on his 15th hole then found the water on his 17th which led to a double bogey and set up the playoff.

Joe Wilson IV

For Wotherspoon, the playoff could not have come at a better hole (No. 1) as he had just birdied there a few hours before.

Mason Witt took third place with rounds of 72-74-73—219. Rounding out the top five sharing fourth place were Riley Bender (77-73-70—220) and Kash Bellar (72-73-75—220).

Raines takes Girls 14-and-Under

Mia Raines

Mia Raines fired rounds of 73-73-75—221 to pull out a 2-shot victory over Macie Brown in the Girls 14-and-under division of the Tour Championship at the UK Club.

Raines and Brown ran away from the field after the first two rounds and were tied for the lead after both posted identical scores. In the final round, Brown got off to a hot start by playing the first seven holes in bogey-free 2-under, but a run of five straight bogeys starting at the eighth opened the door for Raines.

Raines proved up to the challenge with a steady final round that included pars on 10 of her first 11 holes. Her birdie at the 15th offset a later bogey and enabled her take home the title.

Brown finished alone in second with rounds of 73-73-77—223.

Christina Pfefferkorn finished alone in third with rounds of 81-77-78—236 followed by Avi Gill in fourth place at 81-79-77—237.

Thomis goes wire-to-wire in Boys 13-and-Under

Warren Thomis

Warren Thomis never trailed in the Boys 13-and-under division in the Tour Championship, claiming a 3-shot victory over Landen Howard at the UK Club.

Thomis posted rounds of 72-73-71—216 including a final round in which he posted four birdies.

He carried a 1-shot lead into the final round and after a bogey at the first he rallied with birdies at 3 and 7 then again at 11 and 13. Meanwhile, Howard was in the midst of a steady round himself that included 15 pars on the day bolstered by a birdie at the 16th.

The victory was Thomis’ second of the season as he found the winner’s circle last April at Elks Run.

Howard, who earned Player of the Year honors in his division, wrapped up a season in which he posted five victories and five runner-up finishes. He finished the tournament with rounds of 75-71-73—219.

Bradley Chill took sole possession of third place with rounds of 73-75-73—221 followed by Peyton Blackard in fourth at 75-77-73—225.

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