Players of the Year Bryant, Schalk cap Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado season with Tour Championship victories
by Gary Baines
The 2017 Player of the Year choices for the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado were all but set in stone going into this weekend’s final major of the season.
But as if to put an exclamation point on their Player of the Year honors, Davis Bryant of Aurora and Hailey Schalk of Erie won the JGAC Tour Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club, leaving absolutely no doubt.
With Sunday’s victories, Bryant and Schalk (pictured together at left) ended up both winning every JGAC major championship in which they participated in 2017. In fact, earlier this year, they also both prevailed at the Colorado Junior PGA Championship, which was appropriate as both are the children of Colorado PGA general managers, Matt Bryant of Green Valley Ranch Golf Club and Matt Schalk of Colorado National Golf Club, respectively.
Sunday’s victory in the Tour Championship was major victory No. 3 for Bryant in 2017 and the second for Schalk this year, though she also won one on 2016. They become the first three-time winners of JGAC majors since the Alliance debuted at the beginning of 2016.
The 17-year-old Bryant, who also won the 5A state high school title this past week, prevailed by three strokes on Sunday, shooting rounds of 70-72 for a 2-under-par total of 142.
After being 3 over par for the day through 10 holes on Sunday, the Colorado State University-bound Bryant played his last eight holes in 3 under, punctuated by a tap-in birdie on No. 14 and by a 6-inch birdie on No. 18 after a superb bunker shot.
Including his major wins in the Colorado Junior PGA, Colorado Junior Amateur and JGAC Tour Championship, the Eaglecrest High School senior captured five titles in Alliance events in 2017. In the one JGAC major in which Bryant didn’t compete, his sister Emma won the girls title, at the Colorado Junior Match Play, so there was a “Bryant Slam” in some respect.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Davis Bryant (left) said of his overall performance in 2017. “It’s been a season to remember. This year I’ve played so consistent and played such good golf over the last six months. The win at Cherry Hills today was just gravy on top. It feels awesome to finish the year off strong. It’s great to play in three majors and win them all. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to play in the third (of the four majors as he was instead competing in the national Junior PGA, where he finished 14th). It was a cool feeling to accomplish as much as I did.”
Cal McCoy of Highlands Ranch shared the Tour Championship lead with Bryant after 15 holes on Sunday, but a second shot into the water and the resulting double bogey on No. 16 dropped him back. But the future University of Denver golfer finished second at 145 after closing with a 72.
Barrett Jones of Eagle placed third at 146 after a pair of 73s.
“(The many top competitors in JGAC events) make me a better player,” Bryant said. “I think that’s a big factor in why I played so well this year. It makes you a better player because you’ve got to step up your game.
“Today, I didn’t play the best on the front nine, but I got in a groove on the back nine over the last eight holes after I bogeyed 10. I really turned it around.”
In the girls Tour Championship, the 15-year-old Schalk won by six after posting rounds of 74-74 for a 4-over-par 148 total at Cherry Hills. She made three birdies in Sunday’s final round and played the final four holes in 1 under to pull away.
Besides the JGAC Tour Championship, Schalk (left) won titles in the 3A state high school championship as a Holy Family freshman, the AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior, the Colorado Junior PGA and the season opener on the JGAC Tour in April.
“It feels really good” to have that kind of year, Schalk said. “There are so many competitive players, so just to be able to pull through and win the majors is a big deal. You work so hard all year, then coming to the end of it, to win (another) big major is definitely a confidence-booster.”
Lauren Lehigh of Loveland, the 4A state high school champ, placed second at 154 after carding a final-round 74. Julia Baroth of Denver was within one of Schalk after 15 holes, but played the last three holes in 5 over to card a 79 and share third place at 155 with Caroline Jordaan, who closed with a 77 on her home course.
“On the front nine we were close, and I knew I had to finish strong and have a good back nine,” Schalk said. “After I made my birdie putt on 16 (from 5 feet) and Julia made bogey, I thought I had a little bit of a lead. I just needed to keep it going and make pars and birdies on the way in.”