Bell, Volion capture overall titles at 2023 Norman Puckett Junior Golf Championship

Published 9:19 am Thursday, June 15, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Jeremiah Bell of Fulton held off some tough competition to win both the boys’ overall championship and the boys’ 16-18 division while Vivan Volion of Springfield, La. needed one extra playoff hole to defeat last year’s girls’ overall champion to claim the title last weekend at the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Championship at the Duncan Park Golf Course.

Bell shot back-to-back rounds of 2-over-par 73 last Saturday and Sunday to finish with a two-day score of 4-over-par 146 to finish one shot ahead of Garner Seymour of Biloxi and two shots in front of Andrew Miller of Saltillo to take first place in both the boys’ overall as well as the boys’ 16-18 divisions.

Seymour had rounds of 2-over-par 73 and 3-over-par 74 to finish with a two-day total of 147 while Miller had back-to-back rounds of 3-over-par 74 for a two-day score of 148.

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Duncan Park golf course superintendent Greg Brooking said this year’s tournament was a big success despite the threat of severe thunderstorms late Saturday afternoon.

“I thought it was a great tournament. We had people from four or five different states. We had some from as far away as New Mexico and Florida,” Brooking said. “We had little RyAna Salcido from New Mexico and Xeve Perez, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“And we really wanted to thank our sponsors — William Burnsed, Visit Natchez, the Puckett Girls, General John Sherman Crow, and Parker Yelverton, who is Norman Puckett’s nephew.”

On girls’ side, Volion easily won the girls’ 16-18 division after posting rounds of 4-over-par 75 on Saturday and even-par 71 on Sunday for a two-day total of 146. She finished 20 shots ahead of second-place Mallory Pippin of Ocean Springs, who had rounds of 85 and 81 to finish at 166, and 21 shots ahead of third-place Alexandria Richard of McKinney, Texas, who fired rounds of 85 and 82 for a two-day total of 167.

Defending girls’ overall and girls’ 13-15 division champion Sophia (Seda) Macias of Denham Springs, La. won her age group for a second straight year after posting round of 1-over-par 72 on Saturday and 3-over-par 74 on Sunday to finish at 146.

That forced a sudden-death playoff between Volion and Macias to determine this year’s girls’ overall champion. The playoff started, and ended, on the first hole. Macias’s tee shot went well left and into the water. She ended up with a bogey while Volion captured the title with a par.

“Overall, the children loved the course and the parents loved the city of Natchez and every one of them said they would be back next year and they would bring their friends,” Brooking said.

Brooking then made a major announcement last Wednesday morning concerning the future of the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Championship.

“Next year, we’re going to make it a 54-hold World Amateur Ranking Event. That should bring even more children and parents to stay in our town and enjoy our well-maintained and historic golf course,” Brooking said.

Perez, who is originally from Evans, Georgia, won the boys 12-13 division after firing consecutive rounds of 74 for a two-day score of 148. Drew Gay of Jackson finished second with a two-day score of 161 after shooting rounds of 81 and 80.

Parker Winders of Madison won the boys’ 14-15 division and finished tied for fourth in the boys’ overall division with rounds of 77 and 73 for a two-day score of 150. He tied for fourth overall with Matthew Bond of Ocean Springs, who came in fourth in the boys’ 16-18 division thanks to rounds of 71 and 79.

One of the players in the boys’ 14-15 division was Archer Doyle of Natchez, who was unable to play both rounds after Brooking said he fell ill and had to withdraw from the tournament.

Salcido was the only player in the girls’ 9-and-under division, which was played on nine holes each day — the front nine on Saturday and back nine on Sunday. She carded scores of 45 and 47 to finish with a two-day score of 92.

Leah Wigginton of Summit won the girls’ 10-12 division with scores of 37 and 45 to finish with a two-day total of 82, five shots ahead of second-place Blake Bayliss of Madison, who had scores of 44 and 43 to finish at 87.

In the boys’ 10-11 division, Alex Penn of Canton came in first place with rounds of 40 and 39 to finish at 79, five shots ahead of Micah Bertelsen of Natchez, who carded rounds of 44 and 40 for a two-day score of 84.

As for how the weather somehow cooperated late last Saturday afternoon, Brooking said. “I was very surprised that the weather didn’t bother us. The wind started picking up and the dark clouds moved in, but it never rained. There was no lightning, so play never ceased. Although I would have welcomed the rain. Prior to the tournament, it had not rained at Duncan Park for five weeks.”

Brooking added that while he was pleased with the turnout of 37 junior golfers for this year’s tournament, he would have like to have seen it be even bigger.

“I want the tournament to have 50 juniors. I always aim for 50 juniors. But it takes time to develop a quality junior golf tournament and there’s so much competition.”

As for what it would take for there to be more junior golfers from the Natchez area to play in the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Championship, Brooking said, “For the children from Natchez to focus on golf. Like Chase Kaiser. He focused only on golf. We only had Micah and Archer this year. The rest of the children don’t see to have a focus on golf. It’s a hard game. The children in our area don’t want to focus on the game of golf all the time. Chase Kaiser, he focused on practice as well as playing golf all the time. That’s why we have junior golf programs here at the Duncan Park Golf Club.”