Mac Johnsey could have said Saturday just wasn’t his day.
The 11-year-old followed a double bogey and a pair of bogeys by hitting a ball into the water on the first par-5 in the Junior Regions Tradition golf tournament.
But Mac – as though listening to his father – didn’t let a bad start determine his outcome, which was a championship 5-over 41 showing in the ages 10-11 boys division.
This tournament, sponsored by Alabama Power, looked little like the other events on the Birmingham Golf Association’s junior tour. This tourney somewhat resembled a pro major, because it was played on the same Greystone Golf & Country Club Founders Course on which the best golfers age 50 and older will play this week in the Regions Tradition, one of the five senior major golf championships.
The sparse galleries were composed of doting parents, unlike the gallery of fans who will likely fill the stands overlooking the 18th green for Sunday’s senior pro final. The youths who won the age divisions Saturday received a new green bicycle and a trophy just like the one the senior winner will get.
And those young victors will bask in the applause of Sunday’s fans as they step onto the 18th green to be acknowledged with the winner of this year’s Regions Tradition.
Ian Thompson is executive director of the Birmingham Golf Association and was director of the Junior Regions Tradition. Discussions about the tournament began about three or four years ago before it was played for the first time last year as part of the BGA junior tour.
“It has become a very sought-after event for these boys and girls to get to play in,” Thompson said. “They are playing on a course that is prepared for a championship for the best over-50 professional golfers in the world. Obviously, they’re not playing anywhere near the length that the seniors will play, but they’re playing the same greens. They’re playing with grandstands and the pavilions.
“It’s kind of a really cool deal for them,” the tourney director added. “There wouldn’t be many events that would allow it. I’m not saying it’s the only one like this but there can’t be very many events that would allow juniors all over the golf course just days before the championship is to begin.”
George Shaw, tourney director of this week’s Regions Tradition, said the junior and senior events bridge generations.
“From the Junior Regions Tradition to the Regions Tradition, we have kids as young as 8 years old and we have players as old as 63 years old,” Shaw said. “I think it’s important for the tournament to help grow the game. That’s part of the initiative and part of the genesis of forming the (junior) tournament, to allow the kids to play the golf course in tournament conditions with all the grandstands and tents built. It’s a really cool thing to see them out there.”
Emma Kate Rice of Mountain Brook came into Saturday’s tournament with experience competing at a famous venue. The winner of the ages 10-19 girls 9-hole division placed third in the prestigious Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on April 3 at famed Augusta National Golf Club, home to The Masters.
Rice said the venue made the event both exciting and intimidating.
“It can give you anxiety,” she said. “It’s just really exciting and just being able to be there and have fun, even if you don’t place.”
Rice said her round on Saturday had a few ups and downs.
“I was able to get through the downs and I was able to just be able to finish and I played my best,” she said. “I had fun out here.”
Sharon and Chuck Gore watched from a golf cart as their son Carson played Saturday. The Hoover mother said they’re “over the moon” when their son hits a good shot and “very sad” if he triple bogeys.
But she provides perspective.
“I try to tell him that professional golfers triple putt all the time, so when he does it, he’s in good company,” she said. “Let it go and move on to the next hole.”
Lee Johnsey, Mac’s dad, knew his son was facing a tall order as he and the other youths dealt with faster greens and tough pin placement of the Greystone course.
“I think it’s a very challenging course,” he said as the 10- and 11-year-olds teed off on No. 10. “It teaches them how to adjust for each shot. Golf is all about playing for the next shot and recovery.”
Mac admitted he was a little mad after his first three holes. He followed that start with a par and had a birdie trip lip out on a chip. From there, he found a steady mix of bogeys and pars throughout his 9-hole round before a nice tee shot on 18 set the stage for a closing birdie.
“I have a good mental game,” the 11-year-old said. “I think, OK, I can’t fix that shot but what I can do is make this shot one of my best and come back and have a good score on this hole, and throughout the round.”
Ninety-three youngsters took on the challenge of Greystone’s Founders Course. The six division winners who will be recognized with the senior tourney victor on Sunday are:
Ages 10-11, 9-hole: Mac Johnsey, Mountain Brook, 5-over 41.
Ages 12-13, 18-hole: Denton Brooks, Mountain Brook, par 72.
Ages 14-15, 18-hole: Andrew Turner, Tuscaloosa, 1-under 71 (won playoff with Jake Norris).
Ages 16-19, 18-hole: Ben Mendheim, Vestavia Hills, 5-over 77.
Ages 10-19, 9-hole: Emma Kate Rice, Mountain Brook, 7-over 43.
Ages 13-19, 18-hole: Kate Cost, Crane Hill, 2-over 74.