Text: Greg Johnson
August Meekhof of Allendale, Sophie Stevens of Highland, Max VanderMolen of Richland, and Kate Brody of Grand Blanc were crowned age group champions on Sunday, April 28, 2019 in the inaugural Golf Association of Michigan, or GAM, Junior Kickoff Championship at Washtenaw Golf Club in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The inaugural tournament was created to allow junior players an additional competition early in the golfing season. The two-day, 36-hole championship event took place on Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28, 2019 with a field of 86 players. The GAM Junior Kickoff Championship also aptly kicked off the annual golf schedule, which this year comprises about 35 championships serving all age groups and both genders, with 34 qualifying opportunities for those events and about 18 qualifiers for the United States Golf Association national championships.
For this year’s event, which started at noon on Saturday and had a double tee start on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. EST, it was 17-year-old Meekhof, 13-year-old Stevens, 11-year-old VanderMolen, and 14-year-old Brody who were named championship winners.
Meekhof, who is currently a high school junior and verbally committed to play collegiate golf at Michigan State University, shot a 1-over 73 for 147 and a four-shot win in the open division. Shaunak Bhagat of Ann Arbor was second in the open division, closing with a 73 for 151.
Although Meekhof doesn’t play for his high school team and instead plays and practices at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University, he said he spent four weeks in Florida this spring working on his game and keeping up with his studies online.
“My game is in pretty good shape right now,” Meekhof said. “I thought I was hitting the ball well. My putting was off and I didn’t drive it all that well, but I hit some good iron shots and some good recovery shots.”
For Stevens, who played among the older girls in the open division, she shot a 77 for 158 and a one-shot win over Nicole Whatley of Northville, who shot 80 for 159 and finished second in the division. Fresh off a seventh place finish in her age division at the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National in Georgia, Stevens said her game was good overall.
“I hit some good iron shots,” Stevens said. “I feel like I could have played better, but overall it wasn’t bad and I did get a win. I feel good about that.”
In the boys’ 15-years-old-and-under age group, VanderMolen took first place with his play of 79 for 156, beating out Ryan O’Rourke of Bloomfield Hills’ 84 for 158. It was also the first GAM title for VanderMolen, who placed second in his age group in the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. VanderMolen, who regularly plays against older golfers and was the younger player to qualify for the 2018 Michigan Junior State Amateur at age 10-years-old, said his putter was working in Washtenaw.
“It was the best part of my game today. I had a few really good putts for par that I made,” VanderMolen said. “I practice in a dome in Kalamazoo in the winter, and I played in tournaments in Florida and Arizona. I kept my game up. It feels good to win. I feel pretty good about my game.”
Brody, who finished first for the girls in the 15-years-old-and-under bracket by 10 shots with 76 for 158. She is also the daughter of two golf professionals—Doug and Jenn Brody of Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club—and claimed her first win of any type in just her second year of competition.
“I’m really happy and glad my mom got to see it because it is her birthday,” Kate Brody said. “It feels good too, because my hard work is paying off.”
Washtenaw Golf Club opened to the public last year. It is the third oldest golf course in Michigan, dating back to 1899. It has evolved throughout the years into a 6,512-yard classic parkland style golf course, featuring narrow tree-lined fairways, strategically placed bunkers, and quick, undulating greens.
The course also has a rich tournament history, such as hosting the 1927 Michigan Amateur Championship, and many major events since for both the Golf Association of Michigan and the Michigan PGA.