Golf tourney catches a break

The American Junior Golf Association Otter Creek Junior Championship fell on Fourth of July week, but it might as well have been St. Patrick’s Day with the luck tournament organizers had this year.

For the first time in the five-year history of the event, it did not have to be delayed because of weather.

That, in itself, was pure fortune considering the amount of rain Columbus experienced the past few days. Tuesday night, it poured sideways about an hour after the final groups had finished.

Thursday, it began raining hard just as the final couple of groups were coming in. The awards ceremony had to be moved inside the clubhouse, but then the winners and organizing committee went back outside for pictures after the rain stopped.

The tournament attracted 144 of the nation’s top junior golfers. Twenty-nine college coaches attended, 27 of which were from Division I schools.

The event also caught a break in terms of local interest by having two Columbus kids make the cut to the final round. Danbi Kim tied for 11th in the girls division, and Spencer Fairbanks tied for 35th in the boys field.

Kim, who will be a senior at Columbus North, and Fairbanks, a recent North grad who is headed to Butler, are the first local players to make the cut since 2014.

The other local players were Drew Smith, who will be a junior at North, and Nathaly Munnicha, who will be a freshman at North. The 14-year-old Munnicha was the second-youngest player in the girls field behind 12-year-old Maggie Ni of Cypress, Texas.

Ni finished fourth in a World Junior chess tournament in Dubai but now plays chess only as a hobby. She took up golf after her mother said she needed more exercise.

Ni’s older sister Grace won the girls division. The family was making its first visit to the state of Indiana while on their way back from playing a couple of tournaments on the East Coast.

They couldn’t have picked a better event, thanks in large part to the work of tournament co-chairmen John Fairbanks and Jerry Pennington, AJGA tournament director Carly Ragains, Otter Creek pro Chad Cockerham and hundreds of volunteers.

“Tournament week, AJGA comes in and just does an amazing job,” Cockerham said. “The only thing we can’t control is the weather, which unfortunately is the most important thing of the tournament, typically. If you have nice weather for the first five days of July, that’s kind of unusual.”

Cockerham said Otter Creek had massive flooding last fall and had issues to the course it had to address. He credited course superintendent Cory Troyer with getting it back in top shape.

Many of the golfers noticed, and they shared their approval with committee members.

“The weather held off for us beautifully, which it really hasn’t done for us the last couple of years,” John Fairbanks said. “The golf course is in perfect condition, and we’re looking forward to bringing this back again next year.”

Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.