BUTLER – There was plenty of talent in the field of the 95th West Penn Junior Championship at Butler Country Club.
And in a championship like this, the winner is normally the player who has had big tournament experience and has won a big event.
Say hello to Jason Li.
The 16-year-old, a member of Diamond Run Golf Club, posted rounds of 74-75 to win by a shot over Mark Goetz of Greensburg and by two over Brady Pevarnik of Latrobe.
This is Li’s third WPGA championship. He won the West Penn Boys Championship (13 and Younger Division) at Hill Crest Country Club in 2012 and the 2014 Boys Championship in 2014 by five shots with a 68 at Montour Heights Country Club.
Li will be a junior at Sewickley Academy in a couple months and when he starts playing high school golf, he’ll do so as the defending PIAA Class AA individual champion.
His name will go on the championship trophy with the likes of Arnold Palmer (1947 and 1948), Sam Parks (1926), Fred Brand (1927), Butler’s own Jim Simons (1966) and William Miller, who won three straight Juniors from 2003-2005.
Li’s day was definitely not a walk through the parkland Butler CC layout, although he started by parring his way through the front nine and adding three more to start the back. Then he bogeyed three of the next five to shoot 74.
He started his second 18 holes of on the back nine and, after parring the first two, bogeyed four straight holes and shot 40. Li was even on the front and shot 75.
“I don’t know why, but I just have a tougher time on that back nine,” he said. “But I was proud of myself because I worked hard to keep looking at the next shot and forget about the shots I had already hit. The thing about golf is you show up at the golf course with whatever you have that day. And you have to make that fit what’s happening that day. You can’t be fixing something during the round.”
Li’s victory qualifies him for the West Penn Amateur for the next two years.
Goetz and Kyle Grube of Indiana had the lowest rounds of the championship, shooting 73 in the morning. Goetz, however, doubled the first and the last holes in the afternoon and added four bogeys to finish with a 77. Grube made seven bogeys and a triple in the afternoon for an 80.
Pevarnik, Latrobe’s 14-year-old phenom, shot 76-75, but wasn’t necessarily pleased, even with a third-place finish.
“I was a little better in the second round, but missed a lot of short putts all day,” he said. “But I also made a couple longer ones, so I guess it evened out. It just wasn’t my day.”
There were no players who finished under par on Monday at Butler. As a matter of fact, there were only 38 players who were able to post rounds in the 70’s.
The top five players and ties qualify for the WPGA’s C.R. Miller Memorial Match Play Invitational, an event that fields the top 16 junior golfers in the region.
Those qualifiers include: Li, Goetz, Pevarnik, Grubre, Christian Evanchec of Saxonburg, Nic Leone of Butler, Evan Long of New Castle, and Jeremy Eckenrode of Ebensburg.