Jones defending champ in city junior championship today

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The already abridged Natchez Junior Golf Championship field will pull up at the pro shop at Duncan Park Golf Course today with news they could have done without.

The king is back, or so Lee Jones proclaimed after a seventh-place finish at the 2003 Mississippi Boys’ Junior Amateur Championships at Greenwood Country Club Wednesday.

&uot;I’m starting to play real competitively,&uot; said Jones, the five-time defending champ of today’s stroke-play event that concludes Friday. &uot;I played real good in the (Boys’ Junior Amateur) the last three days. I feel a lot more comfortable than in the City.&uot;

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Jones, who won the Bill McKinney Memorial City Championship a year ago, put together two rounds of 74 to finish at 148 Sunday, and 12 shots behind champion Jay Lessley.

Jones must battle a small field, which Duncan Park PGA professional Marvin Gray believes will rival last year’s meager 11, with his heaviest competition coming from Cole Bradford and Jordan Farmer, who finished three strokes better than Jones at the City Championship.

&uot;I’ve just got to try to play my game and not worry about what he’s going to be doing out there,&uot; Farmer, the Cathedral sophomore-to-be, said of Jones. &uot;I feel pretty confident with the way I’ve been playing lately. I know it’s been pretty good, and I hope I can keep it up.&uot;

Along with the boys, Mary-Kate Byrne, 15, will be the only girl entered in the female side of the Junior today.

Byrne, who played for Cathedral this past spring and has participated in her first full schedule of tournaments this summer, tries not to think about the unique situation that faces her during a round.

&uot;It’s hard to find people that want to play with a girl, but over this past year I’ve found some wonderful people to play with,&uot; said Byrne, who credited her grandfather Howard Lofton with nurturing her love of golf. &uot;There’s not many girls that play, but I’m used to going against the guys.&uot;

This summer alone Byrne has participated in several Gulf States PGA events, the Mississippi Girls Junior Amateur and the prestigious Big I Mississippi Insurance Youth Classic in Clarksdale, which Beau Pre hosted last year.

For Gray, this week’s two-day event is a culmination of junior programs Duncan Park has played host to throughout the summer, including two clinics.

&uot;We’ve had an opportunity to help kids in different programs to improve their skills,&uot; Gray said. &uot;They’ve had all summer to work on their games.&uot;

Gray explained the Junior’s dwindling numbers are due to a combination of things, such as youth’s involvement in baseball and gymnastics and also in part to an underdeveloped facility.

Gray hopes the Recreation Committee, which is still waiting on approval for a consultant to develop its proposed plans, has some face-lifts in mind for Duncan Park to perhaps appeal to a younger audience.

&uot;Not necessarily make (Duncan Park) into a Cadillac golf facility, but certainly a Chevrolet &045; not an old clunker,&uot; he said. &uot;One that meets the demand of its population, but at the same time gives visitors a reason to stay an extra night in Natchez and spend money to make things better for all of Natchez.&uot;

Some of Gray’s visions include more staff and a learning center, possibly in conjunction with the First Tee program planned for Alcorn State’s planned golf course.

First Tee is an initiative of the World Golf Foundation to create affordable and accessible golf facilities for the youth, primarily to serve those who have not previously had exposure to the game.

&uot;Younger kids look up to guys like us who are older,&uot; said Farmer, who plays on Cathedral’s golf team. &uot;It’s our job to bring them out there and get them started. It helped my game a lot to play alongside juniors and seniors&uot; this past year.

After his

positive finish to the City Championship Sunday, Farmer said playing next to golfers older than him helped to deflate any pressure mounting for the Junior today.

But Farmer and the rest of the field must go head-to-head with Jones, who thinks he has finally rediscovered his groove on the course.

&uot;I’ve started to swing the club a lot better,&uot; Jones said. &uot;My entire mental game is coming around. It’s a little late; but better than never.

&uot;I’m playing pretty good right now. It’s finally starting to come around. I’m ready to go out there and see what I can do.&uot;