by Gary Baines
The par-5 18th hole at Buffalo Run Golf Course in Commerce City treated two 17-year-old Coloradans quite nicely on Tuesday, which is a big part of the reason they'll each be going to the U.S. Junior Amateur for the first time.
Dillon Stewart of Fort Collins, winner of this month's AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior, and Christopher Kennedy of Aurora both eagled the 18th hole and matched 4-under-par 68s to share medalist honors out of a 79-player qualifying field at Buffalo Run.
The two joined Andrew Rodriguez of The Woodlands, Texas (69) in punching their tickets to Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J., host of many major championships over the years. The dates for the national tournament are July 16-21. (The qualifiers are pictured, from left: Rodriguez, Stewart and Kennedy.)
Stewart actually eagled two of his last eight holes on Tuesday, making a 40-footer on No. 11 and a 5-footer on No. 18.
"I was coming down 18 and Calvin McCoy's caddie wondered if I wanted to know where I was at (relative to the qualifying number)," Stewart said. "I said, 'No, I'm just going to play it and see where I finish up at the end when I sign the card.'
"I had 238 (yards) to the pin. I hit a 4-iron to 5 feet and made eagle. Looking back on it, it was a clutch shot to get it real close and make the putt for eagle."
Kennedy, playing more than an hour earlier, eagled his final hole from 10 feet after making four birdies and two bogeys earlier. The 68 was the best score ever for the Smoky Hill senior-to-be.
"My tee shot took a joyride on the cart path (on 18). It was sitting on the cart path with 155 yards left to the green," Kennedy noted. "Then I hit 9-iron to 10 feet for eagle.
"In a big qualifier with all the pressure around and with how big and competitive the field is, it's a really great feeling (to advance).
"I feel like this is the biggest qualifier I have ever played in -- topping the other ones combined. Not only was I co-medalist, I shot my career best, so it's kind of a double bonus."
Stewart, a Fossil Ridge student who has verbally committed to play his college golf at Oklahoma State starting in the fall of 2019, had Colorado State University golfer AJ Ott caddying for him on Tuesday. It was just last Friday that Ott won the CGA Match Play title, and with him on the bag, Stewart made three birdies and three bogeys in addition to his two eagles.
"We're both out at Ptarmigan, and he's kind of been a mentor to me," Stewart said of Ott. "I learn from his mistakes and he's showed me the ropes a little bit in junior golf and what to expect in college. We're pretty good buddies."
So what does going to the U.S. Junior Amateur mean to Stewart?
"It means a lot because I've qualified for pretty much everything else (for juniors nationally) -- the Junior PGA last year, the IMG (Junior Worlds) several times ...," he said. "I've fallen short a few times in this tournament and I'm glad I got it done. I feel like I've been knocking on the door the last few years. It feels good to finally get this one."
Rodriguez, meanwhile, finished the day with five birdies and two bogeys.
Davis Bryant of Aurora, who qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2015 and '17, fell short of earning a third berth as he shot a 71. Bryant has won the last four Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado majors in which he's competed.
Also failing to qualify after competing in last year's U.S. Junior Am was TJ Shehee of Mead, who carded a 75 on Tuesday.
U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifying
At Par-72 Buffalo Run GC in Commerce City
ADVANCE TO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Christopher Kennedy, Aurora 68
Dillon Stewart, Fort Collins 68
Andrew Rodriguez, The Woodlands, Texas 69
ALTERNATES (In Order)
Jack Castiglia, Lakewood 70
Matthew Denton, Austin, Texas 70
For all the scores from Monday, CLICK HERE.