Hamden, Connecticut (August 4, 2021) – The 19th Northern Junior Championship presented by Junior Golf Hub concluded today at storied New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Connecticut. Following ideal conditions on Tuesday for the opening round, players were met with overcast skies and a freshening breeze as they navigated the famed Willie Park Jr. design.
In the Boys Championship, Ben James of Milford, Connecticut triumphed with an outstanding 6 under par total of 134, while Jieming Yang of Orlando, Florida captured the Girls Championship by one stroke with a clutch birdie on the final hole.
Entering Wednesday’s final round, Tyler Lee of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey held a two-shot lead over two-time defending Northern Junior champion Ben James of Milford, Connecticut. With Lee at 4 under and James at 2 under to start the day and only a handful of other players within striking distance of the lead, it appeared the final round could become a two-man race. After the front nine, Lee and James were tied at 4 under par with their closest competition three strokes back.
“Coming into today, I was really hoping to pick up two shots on the par 5s and make two birdies,” said James. The layout at New Haven CC is unique in many ways, but one of the most interesting features is that the front nine is comprised of seven par 4s and two par 3s, while the back nine offers excellent scoring opportunities on the course’s only two par 5s – #10 and #18.
James fulfilled the first part of his strategy on the par 5 10th with a timely birdie, pulling one shot ahead of Lee. He added another birdie on the blind par 4 11th. The lead was now two. A few holes later, Lee stumbled on the devilish par 4 13th with a costly double-bogey. In a flash, James now held a commanding four stroke lead at 6 under with five holes to play.
James did make bogey on the par 14th, but he never appeared rattled and cruised to pars on 15, 16, and 17. “I guess I hit 18 greens today,” said a smiling James after the round.
He carried a three-shot lead walking up to the 18th green, where he nearly chipped in for eagle. He settled for a tap-in birdie and his third Northern Junior title, a feat that has never been accomplished in the event’s 19 year history.
“The Northern Junior is such a special event for me and it’s such a great opportunity for my family and friends to be able to come out and watch. My grandmother was even able to come out which was awesome. It just means so much to me to win this event.” James will turn 19 years old just before the 2022 Northern Junior (and therefore will no longer be eligible to compete) but he has undoubtedly left his mark on junior golf throughout the country and secured his place in the Northern Junior history books.
Overnight leader Tyler Lee finished at three under par 137 with impressive rounds of 66 and 71 and will return to the Northern Junior in 2022 in hopes of claiming the title. As a 2023 high school graduate, Lee will certainly be a name to watch and early favorite for next year’s event.
At even par and tied for 3rd place were Ryan Pamer of Hudson, Ohio and Key Coker of Dallas, Texas. Coker was also the recipient of this year’s Ryan Lee Memorial Scholarship. Another shot back at one over and tied for 5th place were Bradley Sawka of Ellington, Connecticut and Aiden Azevedo of Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Heading into Wednesday, the Girls Championship featured an unprecedented five-way tie at the top of the leaderboard. Five players representing five different states, all competing for their first Northern Junior title – Laniah Moffett of Connecticut, Sophia Li of New York, Lauren Jones of Pennsylvania, Samantha Galantini of New Jersey, and Jieming Yang of Florida. All five leaders posted rounds of two over par 72 on Tuesday, however another group of players were just one shot back at three over to start the day. As expected, the title would come down to the very last putt on the 18th green.
Through the first ten holes of the final round, Jieming Yang had emerged from the pack. She carded four birdies, four bogeys, and two pars in the opening ten holes – including back-to-back birdies on 9 and 10 – to jump to a commanding four shot lead while other players faltered on the slippery New Haven CC greens.
Yang, who relocated from China to Florida three years ago, would see her lead shrink to just one shot by the time she reached the 18th tee box. Standing at seven over par Yang knew she held a one shot lead over her playing competitors (Galantini and Jones). “I knew I was ahead of Samantha and Lauren, but actually I didn’t know I was leading. I thought I had fallen out of the lead after 16.”
What Yang also didn’t realize is that two more players had already posted eight over par in the clubhouse. It appeared the championship could finish with five players tied at the top of the leaderboard – just how the final round began.
Yang striped a tee shot off #18 and was left with 200 yards for her second shot. She followed that with a sublime hybrid to the front of the par 5 green, leaving herself about 60 feet for eagle. At that point, Yang glanced at the large leaderboard adjacent the green. She was still clinging to a one-shot lead, and with Galantini facing a makeable birdie putt from behind the hole, she knew she needed two putts to secure the victory. With deft touch, Yang lagged her first putt within two feet of the hole. She then watched as Galantini poured in her 15 footer for birdie, momentarily tying her at seven over.
With a deep breath, Yang settled over her two-foot birdie putt. It was center cut, and a fitting way for Yang to end her stellar junior golf career. “It’s so special for me to win this event, my last tournament as a junior golfer, and I’m so thankful for the tournament committee and for New Haven Country Club for this great opportunity,” said Yang in her acceptance speech. “It’s such a great honor to win this tournament.” Yang will now continue her golf career at the University of California and join an elite Division I program steeped in history. One can only imagine there will be many more titles in her future.
With her clutch birdie on the 18th hole, Samantha Galantini of West Orange, New Jersey secured solo second place at eight over par. Similar to Tyler Lee, Galantini is a 2023 high school graduate and will return to the Northern Junior in 2022 in hopes of earning the title.
In a three-way tie for third place at nine over were Lauren Jones of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mia Sessa of Augusta, Georgia, and Maryanne Grace of Rye, New York.
About the Northern Junior Championship
As has become customary, the Northern Junior kicked off on Monday with player practice rounds and the annual Players Dinner along with the Long Drive Contest. With a bomb of 337 yards, Garrett Kessler of North Caldwell, New Jersey captured the Boys Division. Not to be outdone, Kylie Eaton of Greenville, Rhode Island won the Girls Division with an outstanding drive of 295 yards.
Players and families also witnessed the presentation of the Ryan Lee Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded each year to one competitor in memory of two-time Northern Junior champion Ryan Lee. Ryan’s passion and love for the game of golf left a lasting impression on everyone he met, and it is a true honor for the Northern Junior Championship to help carry on his legacy. This year’s recipient, Key Coker of Dallas, Texas will be attending Dallas Baptist University this fall where he will also compete on the golf team.
New Haven Country Club has played host to countless championships in its history, including the Connecticut Open, Connecticut Amateur, and New England Amateur, and 2021 marks the 6th time that the Northern Junior has been contested at this remarkable venue. This year’s Northern Junior Championship featured a total of 111 players from 27 different states, provinces, and countries.
The 2022 Northern Junior will be contested on August 1-3, 2022 at Great River Golf Club in Milford, Connecticut. Next year will also mark the 20th playing of the Northern Junior. The event will then return to New Haven Country Club in 2023.
A special thanks to the countless volunteers who helped to make this year’s championship so special, and thank you New Haven Country Club, the Connecticut State Golf Association, and Junior Golf Hub for their continued support of the Northern Junior.
Congratulations to Ben James and Jieming Yang, the 2021 Northern Junior Champions.
Article by Brent Paladino of the Northern Junior