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Big putt gives rising Sobel a junior victory

A junior golfer's final putt on the 36th hole of a recent statewide tournament was the difference between a win and a playoff.

Zach Sobel, 15, of Clearwater Beach, studied the breaking 15-foot putt for a birdie at Magnolia Point Country Club in Green Cove Springs, stepped up, and drained it.

Sobel, the Times 2005 Boys Golfer of the Year for Palm Harbor University, won the Florida Junior Tour event with a final-round 73 coupled with his opening round of 1-under 71 for 142. He was the only one to break par in the tournament in the windy conditions.

"I just had to hold it together getting up and down and making my putts," said Sobel, referring to his final three holes where he went birdie, par, birdie to win for the first time in the boys 13-15 age division among 65 contestants in the FSGA tournament.

"I worked hard for this win," he added. "I knew I had to take it up a notch to win at this level."

Andrew Colvin of Longwood and Phillip Choi of Orlando tied for second, one stroke back.

Sobel, a freshman, earned 1,000 points and vaulted into first place in the FJT's standings for 2005-06. In three previous matches, he finished among the top five. His point total is 2,100.

Sobel takes lessons from teaching pro Lew Smithers III at the Troon Institute at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

His recent success also can be attributed, in part, to a set of clubs he acquired early last month. They are state-of-the-art Titleist 670s, full bladed, without cavities.

"These clubs allow him more feel," explained Sobel's father, Mike. "Zach adapted to the new clubs right away. For one thing, he's averaging 260-270 off the tee, meaning some drives are going around 280."

The Sobels are members of both Innisbrook and Tarpon Woods, where Zach is eligible to play for the men's championships. He could be those clubs' youngest champion. In 2004, at age 13, he won the men's title at Wentworth Golf Club.

In the meantime, Sobel has his eye on the Florida State Amateur qualifier to be held June 22-25 at the Pine Tree and Hunters Run courses in Boynton Beach.

If Sobel were to win it, he undoubtedly would be the youngest ever, but the second Pinellas product to win in three years. Brad Quiriof East Lake won in 2004 while a student at USF.

JUNIOR TOUR NOTES: Bjon Stange of Clearwater shot 81-84-165 at the FJT match in Green Cove Springs.

In the girls 13-15 division, Alexis Thompson, 11, of Coral Springs came from behind to win for the fourth time this season. Her rounds of 79-73-152 won by two strokes over Christina Miller of Atlanta and Kendall Wright of Orlando.

Similar to 17-year-old Morgan Pressel on the LPGA Tour, Thompson is playing under a special exemption.

CGA: Jim Hunter of Clearwater and his favorite playing partner, Gil Day of Clearwater Beach, emerged victorious in the senior division of the association's better-ball match at East Lake Woodlands on Monday.

One stroke doesn't usually make a big difference in an 18-hole match. But Day's tee shot on the 117-yard sixth hole was huge.

Using a wedge, Day hit the ball straight for the green where it landed softly and rolled into the narrow cup.

"He let out a war whoop and gave high fives all around," said Hunter, who also saw Day's previous one 18 years ago in Illinois.

"We've playing together since 1972. His previous ace was at Deer Run in Hamilton, Ill., a course we built together."

Day's other three aces were on the No. 8 at that course in Illinois.

Day said his driving in Monday's match was key to their win.

"I kept the ball in play better than usual," Day said. "Jim is the steady player on our team, he makes lots of pars and I make a few birdies."

Their score of 68 was one better than the team of Jack Forbes and J.R. Robertson of Belleair.

Bayou Club members Richard Bullock and Ken Mellem shot 71, followed by Malcolm Griffith and John Knight (73) of Tampa, who took fourth based on a scorecard playoff.

The regular flight (ages 54 and younger) at the East Lake match was won by the same score, 68, but from the blue tees further back at about 6,500 yards.

Sean Martin of Palm Harbor and Bobby Jolley of New Port Richey won over three teams posting 71. They were Bill Pawlicki and Ken Wiley, Vic Morelli and Art Sauve, and Claud Johnston and Jeff Pett.

The third winning 68 was the net score of Mary Lou Edwards and Carol Brown in the women's division.

A total of 189 players teed it up in morning and afternoon matches.

WEST COAST WOMEN: Eaglebrooke member Sisi Hedges won Flight AA of the group's match at Pasadena on Monday with 6-over 78. Net honors in that flight were won by Cathy Schlenk (71) of East Lake Woodlands and Phyllis Conroy(78) of St. Petersburg Country Club.

Mary Ehlers of Belleair finished second, 85, in Flight B; Mary Gilchrist (92) finished third in Flight C; and Jonnie Flanagan of Pasadena won D with 83.

LARGO SCRAMBLE: A full field of 24 teams played in last Saturday's ad hoc match at the city's course.

Don Crotty of Seminole helped his team put together a 14-under 48 for the win. His partners were Norm Caphette, Indian Shores, plus Bill Peetom and Wayne Moore of Largo.

The course also had a rash of aces last week, four in seven days.

The achievers were Dan Frey of Islington, Ontario; Steve Hensley, Largo; Jerry Yancy, Avon, Ind., and Joe Kelleher, Burlington, Mass.

COMING UP: The West Coast Women meet at Pasadena on March 6.

The Pinellas Men's Association plays its March 9 match at Seminole Lake.

Dunedin Country Club will host a FSGA State Senior Qualifier on March 13. Entries are closed.