Gavin Gress and Riley McKenzie Take ZDGA Junior Victories
SOUTH ZANESVILLE — Jack Porter had no preconceived idea that the stage would be too big for Gavin Gress on Wednesday at EagleSticks.
He had seen enough of the young phenomenon to know that his results were no accident.
It turned out correct.
Porter, an upcoming senior at West Muskingum, collected a pair of birdies and held a one-shot seven-hole lead in their quest to decide the 45th Zanesville District Golf Association junior amateur champion.
But the 13-year-old Gress held firm, reclaiming the lead on the back nine and then holding on for a one-shot victory to become the youngest champion in tournament history.
Gress matched the 70 he posted in the first round Tuesday at Vista to finish with a two-round total of 140. Porter’s 71, just one shot over his first round, wasn’t quite enough.
He missed potential birdie putts to tie the game on each of the last three holes, but it was the 15-footer he left on the edge at the par-5 18th that hurt the most. That would have sent the game into the playoffs after Gress missed his own 12-foot birdie.
“He doesn’t make mistakes,” Porter said of Gress. “Even his misses off the tee are only slight pulls, just a little off the fairway. Nothing major. I knew even or better was probably good enough – and I would have thought 71 would have been the number – but it was obviously ‘t.”
The final hole was emblematic of the duo’s struggles to birdie the back nine. The two went over par and tied in the last five holes. Each was vital for Gress, who saw a two-stroke lead slip to one after bogeying the par-4 13th.
It basically turned into match play.
“It was quite stressful,” Gress said. “It was a lot of pressure at the end, but we have to keep playing. I almost birdied the 18th, but it didn’t quite go in.
Gress shot 82 from the gold tees after making the final group in 2021, but playing the blue tees on Wednesday allowed him to stay with Porter’s length. In many cases, he had mid-range pitching shots into the greens that he would otherwise have faced short-to-mid irons.
Even after Porter had two birdies on the front nine, he told himself to keep to himself.
“I just said ‘play your own game’ and got two birdies to equalize,” Gress said.
All was not lost for Porter – he pocketed $1,500 in scholarships as the top potential senior for college. Caleb Dowdell of Sheridan, Connor Larimer of Maysville and Charlie Peterson of Rosecrans won $500 after tying for second place.
Meanwhile, Crooksville senior Riley McKenzie became Perry County’s first women’s champion and joined Lexi Bubenchik and Ali Jones as two-time winners of the women’s tournament.
McKenzie took a nine-stroke lead in the final round over John Glenn’s Addy Burris, and a Burris had two early birdies to take the lead. McKenzie tightened her grip, not allowing the lead to shrink the rest of the way.
Burris finished with 72 and McKenzie 73. McKenzie was visibly unhappy after missing two medium-range putts on the final two holes, the last of which led to a bogey.
Burris’ quick start allowed him to refocus.
“I just kept trying to do pars the rest of the round,” McKenzie said. “I knew that if I was evenly matched, everything would be fine.”
McKenzie called Wednesday bittersweet, knowing it was her last ZDGA even as a junior player. A career at Ashland University awaits you in 2023, but a highly anticipated senior season is next in line.
She was district champion in 2021 and reached the Division III state tournament.
“Obviously I know it’s going to end,” McKenzie said. “It’s kind of the beginning of the end, because this is my last ZDGA as a high school student… I know I have time to play golf after high school, but I would really like to make a statement my l last year and have another strong performance at the state.”
Burris finished at 153, well ahead of third place Makayla Hutchison (89-83 – 172), of Tri-Valley, and Abby McCullough of John Glenn (84-89 – 173).
McKenzie claimed $1,500 as top senior girl, while Hutchison won $1,000 and John Glenn’s Elise Abrams $500.
Owen Lutz of Maysville as third in the Championship Flight (73-76 – 149) and Owen Van Fossen of John Glenn fourth (77-75 – 152); Maysville’s Connor Larimer (76-82 – 158) finished fifth.
Riley Norris won the Collegiate Men’s title at 154 after a final 78, putting three shots ahead of second Nick Luniewski (82-75 – 157).
Sheridan grad Meg Saffell won the collegiate women’s title (82-78 – 160).
CJ Dolan took the first flight (78-77 – 155) in the playoffs against Colton Gress (79-76 – 155); Cael Dowdell of Sheridan (78-80 – 158) and Charlie Peterson of Rosecrans (80-78 – 158) tied for third.
Wyatt Satterfield bounced back from a first-round 92 with a last-round 79 to take the second flight over runner-up Hoyt Dodson (93-81 – 174). Haydejn Gensor finished third (95-83 – 178).
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