ST. CHARLES – Playing the aggressor didn’t carry the results Ben Connor was looking for so he reverted to his usual, steadier brand of golf.
That recalibration did the trick for the 17-year-old St. Charles North senior as Connor prevailed Thursday in the 16 and 17 boys division of the St. Charles Junior Tournament at Pottawatomie Golf Course.
Connor reached a critical juncture after a disastrous triple bogey on the par-3 fourth hole had his comeback hopes flickering. That’s when Connor opted to tone down his brazen play, and his round stabilized with three straight pars.
Connor said he’s a relatively cautious player by nature.
“That’s probably the way I prefer to play, but I figured since I was three off the lead to start with, going into the day, I thought the better strategy would be to try to make some birdies,” Connor said. “That ended up backfiring pretty heavily, so I then went back to my usual style of play.”
A birdie did come on No. 8, but it took a memorable chip-in from a green-side sand trap about 30 yards out to make it happen.
“That was probably one of my top five golf moments, easy,” Connor said.
A fringe player on North’s varsity team in 2012, the much-improved Connor entered the eighth hole tied for the two-day tournament’s lead with fellow group member and North senior J.T. Grill, who might have had a better view of Connor’s chip-in than he would have liked.
“I was standing on the back of the green so I saw the whole thing,” Grill said. “I saw him [hit it] out of the sand, one bounce, ring around the cup and fall in. I was kind of amazed, kind of like ‘OK, I’ve got to step it up if I can here.’ ”
But Grill bogeyed No. 8 to fall two strokes back, the same margin he and Kevin Fredrick finished behind Connor (42-38, for a two-day total of 80). Grill won a one-hole playoff over Fredrick for second place.
Connor doesn’t expect to play collegiately, so he’s gearing up for his final year of team golf this fall. This week marked his first year playing the St. Charles Junior Tournament.
“Well, I tried to last year, but I missed the sign-up date,” Connor said. “Really [I entered] because my buddies have been doing it and I thought, ‘Might as well give it a go, play with some friends,’ and I love competitive golf.”
The leader entering the final round, St. Charles East’s Colin Johnson, followed up his opening round 39 with a 46, tumbling into fifth place. He lamented his putting both days but said his ball-striking also deserted him Thursday.
Remarkably, 14-year-old Gianna Furrie posted the best two-day total (78), regardless of gender or age division. The incoming St. Charles North freshman defended her 12-14 girls division title.
“It’s pretty nice,” said Furrie, younger sister of former North standout Ariana Furrie. “I never thought that I’d be able to beat all the boys, let alone the older ones, too.”
Furrie’s round started par-birdie-birdie-par and, despite a late-round mini-slump, she bettered her Wednesday round of 40 by two strokes Thursday. She bagged what would have been her second tournament title of the summer but a scorecard mistake cost her an Illinois Junior Golf Association championship in Aurora earlier this summer.
Furrie said her incentive to play in the tournament was “mostly practice.”
“The North tryouts are going to be [at Pottawatomie] so it was mostly just practice for the future but I guess [winning] is pretty good, too,” Furrie said.
Furrie shot 15 strokes better than the next best female entry, 15-17 division girls winner Jessica Grill (93). Jessica Grill, J.T.’s twin sister, was unhappy with her 50 on Thursday but said she couldn’t be too bummed, considering her first-place trophy.
Only four girls participated in the 15-17 bracket.
“It was shocking because the last couple of years, I’ve known a lot more people who have played,” Grill said. “It was just a little weird seeing such a small group and knowing that we would all be together both days and nothing would change.”
In the boys 14-15 division, St. Charles East sophomore Daniel Haugen broke free from a tie with Christopher Black after the first round for an age-group triumph. Haugen’s 87 was five strokes clear of Black and three ahead of runner-up Hank Zimmer.
Haugen said he’s successfully tweaked his mechanics since freshman year.
“I’ve fixed my swing so I’ve been hitting a lot straighter,” said Haugen, who aspires to be No. 1 on the Saints’ JV team this fall. “Fairways mean greens, and greens mean birdies and pars.”