Byrd duo makes most of AJGA Qualifier; nine locals start today

ONE LAST SHOT: Peyton Russell was one of three golfers who made their way into the AJGA Shreveport tournament by winning in a playoff Tuesday at Querbes Park. 

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Things couldn’t have started off any better for James Holtzclaw in the AJGA Qualifier round Tuesday at Querbes Park.

Things couldn’t have started off any worse for fellow Byrd student Shep Smith.

But when it was all said and done, both had accomplished a goal they set before they teed off.

Holtzclaw, who had already qualified for the tournament which begins Wednesday, tied for medalist honors with a four-under round of 67. Starting on the back nine, he chipped in for eagle on the 11th hole (his second of the day) and followed that with a birdie on the 12th hole.

“I tried to cut the corner (on 11) and I think I got lucky because I don’t think I got it all the way over the trees, but I still ended up in the fairway,” Holtzclaw said. “Then I hit a 5-wood that was long and left, but knocked it in for eagle.”

After hitting it three feet from 110 yards out on No. 12, he followed that with birdies on Nos. 17, 1 and 7 to finish tied with Rohan Singhal (Frisco, Texas) at the top of the leaderboard.

Even though he was already in the field, Holtzclaw’s finish earns him additional status on the AJGA tour, which will help him get into more tournaments without having to qualify. “I was going out there (in Tuesday’s round) to try to win it,” Holtzclaw said.

Smith, however, was not already in the field and was gunning for one of the nine available spots in the three-day tournament. Also starting on the back nine, Smith had bogeys on the first two holes.

“I was super nervous,” Smith said. “I lipped out on the first hole and missed a two-footer on the next one. But I kind of needed that to settle down.”

He birdied the 14th hole, but the shot that got him going was a 3-hybrid into the par 3 17th that he hit three feet from the cup. A birdie there got him back to even and two more birdies followed on the front side.

“It’s important to just stay in it,” Smith said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Even though he bogeyed the final hole, his even-par 71 was good enough to give him a fifth-place finish.

“That was kind of my target score when I came out here,” Smith said. “I was hoping that would be good enough.”

Meanwhile, there was another competition going on as four players tied for the final three spots in the field. After all four shot a 71, a playoff was held starting on the 10th tee and lasted two holes before Texans Jeremy Nguyen and Luke Hancock and Mississippi native Peyton Russell earned their way into the tournament.

A field of 51 boys and 27 girls will begin the 54-hole tournament this morning.

Smith will tee off at 8:40 and Holtzclaw has a 9:30 tee time (both are starting on the back nine). Other local players teeing off on the back nine are Hudson Greene (8 a.m.), Noah McWilliams (8:30), Charlie Bell (8:50), Grant Reagan (9:50) and Madden Sawrie (10 a.m.). Teeing off on the front nine are Peyton Johnson (8 a.m.) and the lone local female competitor, Sydney Moss (9:50).

“It (winning) gives me a boost of confidence going into the tournament to try to win the actual tournament,” Holtzclaw said. “I try not to get down on myself if I hit a bad shot because there are still hundreds of shots left to hit. I just want to be in the right frame of mind and make some birdies. My goal is just to play as well as I can. I’d like to shoot under par in each round. That would be cool.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL