Author: Jesse Dodson
The 2017 Hidden Valley PGA Junior Major Championship capped off the inaugural year of The Majors. Four Major Qualifiers lead to a final field of some of the best junior golfers in the state of Utah competing at Hidden Valley Country Club for exemption into the 2017 Utah Open and the first Utah Women’s Open.
At the end of the day, it was four juniors who earned qualifying spots: Cole Ponich, Zach Jones, Lexi Hamel and Cristiana Ciasca.
Ponich, a UCLA commit and champion of the 2017 Utah PGA Junior Series Showdown Classic Major, fired a (-7) 65 to win the Hidden Valley Major Championship and secure his exemption into the Utah Open. Ponich got off to a hot start by birding three of the first four holes. With a total of six birdies, an eagle on the par 5 14th and only one bogey, Ponich won the Boys 17-18 flight by six strokes.
Zach Jones, who dominated The Majors this year, continued his success at Hidden Valley. Jones came in with a (-3) 69 to secure his fourth Major win of the year in the boys 15-16 division adding 80 points to bring his season point total to 385. Jones won the points race by 135 points over second place Cameron Tucker. He went into the championship with a comfortable lead but his performance secured his exemption into the Utah Open.
Jones was a combined 17-under par in the five Majors this year; including shooting even-par at the Showdown Classic at Jeremy Ranch, the first Major of the season.
“I played really well in the Majors,” Jones said. “Some better than others, but I was consistently in contention and won a few of them.”
“It means a lot to me to qualify for the Utah Open. I had the chance to play in it last year and it has since been one of my favorite tournaments to play in.”
“The Utah Open has some of the best competition throughout the state and even some out of the state,” Jones continued. “I played decent last year but my goal this year is to make the cut. It’s a tournament I’ve been looking forward to all year; I’m glad the Utah PGA Junior Series has given the opportunity to let some junior golfers into the tournament.”
Hamel earned her spot into the Utah Women’s Open, which will be played August 19-20 at East Bay Golf Course in Provo, Utah, by winning two of the four qualifying Majors. Hamel’s Major victories and quality play throughout the season vaulted her to the top of the points race. She earned a total of 330 points and sits comfortably in first with a 65-point margin. Hamel never placed lower than T4 in the rest of the Majors, including Hidden Valley where she finished T4 with a 79.
“I felt really accomplished this summer,” Hamel said. “At first, we were only planning on playing in a few Majors just because it’s hard to drive up every week (from St. George), but after my first performance, I wanted to compete more.”
“After the win at Wasatch, I was really set on winning player of the year,” she continued. “I was really excited to be playing well, just because this is the time of year that colleges are really concerned.”
“I was super proud of myself to qualify for the Women’s Open,” Hamel said. “I had a goal at the beginning of the summer, stuck with it, and accomplished it.”
“It is awesome to tell college coaches, and later down the future to my kids and grandkids that when I was 17 years old, I qualified to play in the first Utah Women’s Open ever!”
Ciasca certainly knows how to win tournaments at the right time. Her first Major victory came at the Showdown Classic at Jeremy Ranch where she qualified to play in the national Junior PGA Championship at The Country Club of St. Albans in Missouri. Her victory at the Hidden Valley Major Championship is now taking her to the Utah Women’s Open.
Ciasca finished with three birdies to card a 75, one stroke over Lone Peak High’s Kelsie Higbee. Ciasca finished second in the Player of the Year points race with her successful run in this year’s Majors.
The inaugural year of the Utah PGA Junior Series Majors was a great success providing Utah’s junior golfers a chance to compete for exemption into events where they can measure up against Utah’s best golfers. Plans are already in the works for an even better Major season in 2018. Thanks to all the Utah Section professionals who helped run each event and for offering their courses to benefit junior golf in Utah.