Youth win titles

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NATCHEZ — Fifteen-year-old Tristan Hernandez shared an embrace with his father after turning in his scorecard and realizing he had captured the overall title Monday at the Norman Puckett MJGA Natchez Junior Golf Championship.

Hernandez’s even par, 71, in the 14- and 15-year-old division gave him a one-stroke win over 16- to 18-year-old division winner Conner McCain.

Hernandez, who is from Carthage, said Monday’s win was his first overall title and the third time he has won his age division at a MJGA tournament.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Tristan Hernandez putts at the Norman Puckett MJGA Natchez Junior Golf Championship Tournament at Duncan Park Monday morning. Hernandez shot an even-par 71 and won the overall championship by one stroke.

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“It’s been a while since I’ve won,” he said. “I’m just glad to get back in the winner’s circle.”

Hernandez and McCain were tied starting the back 9, Hernandez said.

“We were both 1-under at the turn, and I knew I had some competition,” he said.

Hernandez was able to take one fewer shots than McCain on the back 9 to earn the right to keep the Norman Puckett Championship trophy until next year’s tournament. Hernandez will also have his name etched on the trophy that is kept at Duncan Park.

Hernandez said that he already plans on coming back next year to defend his title.

Although McCain, 17, fell just short of the overall title, he was still the winner of the 16-18 division, which earned him a brand new driver.

“I played pretty shaky but I’m happy about it,” McCain said. “I’m ready to come back next year.”

The top three finishers in each division received prizes that included a new driver, three-wood and hybrid wood for first, second and third place respectively.

One of the 16-18 division competitors was Natchez native Taylor Strahan, who is a product of the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy that took place earlier this summer at Duncan Park.

Strahan just started playing golf in April and wanted to test his skills in a MJGA event. Although he finished outside of the top three in the 16-18 division, he was pretty pleased with his round, he said.

“It was my first tournament, so I’ll take it,” Strahan said. “It was nice to play in it, but it would have been nicer to win it.”

Strahan will be a senior at Trinity this fall.

The girls’ overall champion came from Clinton to participate in the tournament for the second straight year. Hope Biggs, 17, finished her round Monday with an 80 to win the 13- to 18-year-old girls’ division and the overall girls’ championship.

“I think I played alright,” she said. “I had some rough holes and could have shot better, but I can’t complain.”

Biggs won the girls’ title uncontested last year, and said it was great to have some competition this year.

Conner Beth Ball finished second in the girls’ division with an 89.

Griffin Agent, 13, from Madison took home the 12-13 division title with a 73.

Agent is a seasoned veteran when it comes to MJGA tournaments, and finished third in the overall standings.

“This was my 40th tournament and my 11th win,” he said.

Agent said he had never played at Duncan Park before, but once he got started it felt like home.

“I felt like I knew the course pretty well, even though I had never played it.”

Agent said he has lofty goals set for his golf career.

“I’ve started improving lately. I want to be on the PGA Tour.”

The tournament also featured some pre-teen junior golfers who got to participate in nine-hole tournaments.

Karley Whittington from Vicksburg won the girls’ 10-11 division. Sara Hederman from Jackson won the 9 and under girls’ division. Jack Gnam from Ridgeland won the boys’ 10-11 division. Garrett Rentfro from Natchez won the boys’ 9 and under division.

McCain said he liked being able to come out and play with some of the younger golfers.

“It was good to see the little kids out here playing, that was nice,” he said.

Duncan Park golf superintendent Greg Brooking said he was pleased with the turnout for the tournament, and said the children had a good time.

“The course made a tremendous amount of money, and the tournament brought money into Natchez because a lot of these players stayed over night and ate in Natchez restaurants,” Brooking said.

Brooking added that this was just the second time they had this tournament.

“It’s only getting better, and we’re excited about it,” he said. “The young people are a pleasure to be around. They are great gentlemen and ladies, and they know how to play the game.”

The Parker Yelverton Foundation for the Advancement of Junior Golf provided the funding for the tournament, Brooking said.

Puckett’s daughter Norma Lou Jones represented the Puckett family at the tournament. Jones said she is not much of a golfer herself, but she just wanted to come out and help anyway she could.

“It’s indescribable how proud I am (of this tournament), and I know how proud (Puckett) would be. He would have loved it,” Jones said.

Brooking and Jones both said Puckett was a huge influence on young golfers, including Yelverton, before his death.