Krando Nishiba had seen this putt before. In fact, it was 10 minutes earlier when he barely missed a nearly identical putt on the 9th Hole at Disney’s Palm Course that would have clinched the title for Team California over Team Georgia in regulation.
With a second chance at a Championship, Nishiba made an adjustment and hit an incredible 35-foot birdie putt on the playoff hole that was true from the start. The celebration on the 9th green that followed was a memory for a lifetime.
“I started on a line and putted on a line, and it went in,” said Nishiba. “I came close on No. 9 earlier. I made a read and moved it a little lower…I was just thinking, ‘Get it to the hole’ and ‘Give it a chance,’ and it went in.”
Team Georgia (Alpharetta) still had a shot to tie in the playoff and send it to a chip off. A tough, 10-foot putt by Bruce Murphy lipped out. Teammate Myles Jones then hit his birdie attempt, which truly looked in from the start, only to ring around the cup and somehow bounce out.
“Everything was tied, it was so up and down,” said John Mason, PGA Director of Instruction at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course in San Diego and Team California Captain. “The kids were amazing.”
It was a valiant effort by Team Georgia, which had rallied from a 6-4 deficit to tie it on the final hole 6-6, sending the Championship to a scintillating overtime finish.
“We played hard down the stretch, hit two good putts – it doesn’t get any closer than that,” said Tom Joyce Jr., PGA Teaching Professional at Alpharetta Athletic Club and Team Georgia Captain. “Win or lose, it’s raw emotion you let out. These kids have spent eight months working together as a team, and you just want the best for them.”
Teams representing the state of Georgia won the PGA Junior League Golf Championship in 2011 and 2013, and teams from California first captured the title in 2012—and now in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015. Last year, a team from San Francisco took top honors. This year, the crystal trophy moves down the coast to San Diego. Teams from both states have made the finals for five consecutive years.
“Every time we were down, we came back,” said Mason. “I am so proud for San Diego.”
Team California also had two clutch putts in regulation by Jaycie Stewart, as she rolled in on No. 4 and No. 8 to drive the team to its 6-4 lead.
A crowd gathered on the 9th green for the playoff, including Golf Channel’s Charlie Rymer.
Team California took a big advantage off the tee as Shane Ffrench, who convinced Krando to join PGA Junior League Golf, outdrove Team Georgia by 50 yards. But Georgia hit their approach to 10 feet, while California needed a miracle after its second shot left them quite short of the hole.
And the miracle came true.
“Wow, did I see great golf,” exclaimed Rymer. “This was really cool.”
Players, coaches and parents alike got caught up in the dramatic finish.
“He actually had been missing putts all day long, and he didn’t have to do this to me,” said Yoshi Nishiba, Krando’s father and a San Diego businessman. “If he would have made it in regulation, game over, but I guess he saved it for this dramatic finish.”
In the third place match, Team New Jersey (Hillsborough) edged Team Ohio (Cleveland) 6.5-5.5. Team South Carolina (Columbia) captured fifth place over Team Illinois (Chicago) 9-3. Team Connecticut (Hartford) took seventh place over Team Oklahoma (Tulsa) 7.5-4.5.
“Our match was very close,” said Team New Jersey Captain Anthony Latham, PGA Director of Junior Player Development at Royce Brook Golf Club in Hillsborough. “We were way down early, but we were a scrappy bunch and won three-and-a-half of the last four flags.”
The PGA Junior League Golf Championship features nine-hole matches played in a popular two-person scramble format, with points awarded based on number of holes won. Final scoring is based on the record of matches won, tied and lost. Each team played three matches between Friday and Saturday to determine a winner in the East and West Division, who competed for the Championship title.
Team California (San Diego):
Team Captain: PGA Professional John Mason
Assistant Coach: Jackie DeWald-Mason
Jay Leng Jr.
Alternate: Ryan Mellick