Griffin Barela has only been playing golf -- to any significant extent -- for about three years.
That certainly puts the 17-year-old from Lakewood in the category of "fast learner." After all, on Monday the senior-to-be at Lakewood High School not only qualified for arguably the most prestigious boys golf tournament on the planet, but he did so by earning medalist honors in a tournament for which 79 competitors signed up.
Barela and a fellow Coloradan, Trevor Olkowski of Grand Junction, were paired together Monday for the 36-hole U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at Heritage at Westmoor, and they certainly made the best of it. They finished 1-2 and each will be going to the national Junior Am for the first time. (They're pictured together, with Barela at left.)
"This means a lot," said Barela, who has committed to play college golf at the University of Wisconsin beginning in 2017. "I've always dreamt of playing the U.S. Junior Amateur since I started playing. It means a lot to know my game is good enough to be one of the top three players in the field and get a spot in the most prestigious junior tournament in the country."
Olkowski, a Grand Junction High School senior-to-be who has verbally committed to play at the University of Colorado -- also beginning in 2017, feels much the same way.
"It's my last year to qualify (for the Junior Am) so it means a lot," said Olkowski, who finished runner-up at the AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior earlier this month. "I wanted to make it bad.
"It's a good accomplishment for me and it's one of my goals, but the big picture for me is to go play well at the actual U.S. Junior Amateur. That's where my sights are set. It's the (goal) next up for me in my golf game -- to go to a USGA championship and play well."
Barela led the way Monday with a 3-under-par total of 141, posting rounds of 72-69. Olkowski was a stroke back after carding scores of 70-72.
Earning the third and final berth Monday was 15-year-old Runchanapong Youprayong of Thailand, who went 71-73--144 then prevailed on the second hole of a playoff with Francisco Osio of Mexico as the sun set. Youprayong got up and down from behind the green on the second extra hole, while Osio, who had sunk a 15-foot par putt on the first playoff hole, couldn't drain a 30-foot par attempt on the second extra hole after being in the bunker.
It will be the first U.S. Junior Am for Youprayong (left), but unlike Barela and Olkowski, this was his first time even attempting to qualify for the event.
"I feel pretty damn good," said Youprayong, part of a group of male and female Thai players who are also competing in the PGA Junior Series tournament at Eisenhower Golf Club later this week. "I played well."
This year's national Junior Am will be contested July 18-23 at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., rated as one of the top 50 courses in the country by Golf Digest.
Barela made only one bogey all day on Monday while carding four birdies. Before landing medalist honors on Monday, his biggest golf accomplishment was winning the first-ever Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado tournament in mid-May.
"I hit it really solid today," he said. "I think I only missed four greens (in regulation). I didn't putt great, but I putted good enough to shoot some low scores.
"I knew I could play this well and have a chance. It was just a matter of executing, which I did really well today. ... I just hit green after green. I hit a lot of good shots and gave myself a lot of good looks and enough of them fell to get me in this position."
Olkowski, 17, chalked up seven birdies on Monday.
"The longest birdie putt I made was about 15 feet, but I was pretty consistent," he said.
Darren Edwards of Loveland (79-75--154) fell short of advancing on Monday, but definitely left the course with a highlight, making a double eagle on the 541-yard, par-5 sixth hole in the afternoon round.
U.S. Junior Amateur
At Par-72 Heritage at Westmoor in Westminster
QUALIFIED FOR NATIONALS
Griffin Barela, Lakewood, Colo., 72-69--141
Trevor Olkowski, Grand Junction, Colo., 70-72--142
Runchanapong Youprayong, Bangkok, 71-73--144
ALTERNATES (In Order)
Francisco Osio, Mexico DF, 73-71--144
Sam Tidd, Meridian, Idaho, 74-71--145
FAILED TO QUALIFY
Daniel Pearson, Longmont, Colo., 73-74--147
Cole Krantz, Windsor, Colo., 78-70--148
Oliver Jack, Denver, Colo., 72-76--148
Preston Topper, Suwanee, Ga., 73-75--148
Dillon Stewart, Fort Collins, Colo., 72-77--149
Jack Castiglia, Lakewood, Colo., 75-75--150
Jackson Solem, Longmont, Colo., 73-78--151
Marcus Tait, Littleton, Colo., 74-77--151
Canon Olkowski, Grand Junction, Colo., 73-78--151
Yufeng Shen, Shanghai, 79-73--152
Barrett Jones, Eagle, Colo., 80-73--153
Sam Talor, Nederland, Colo., 76-77--153
Chase White, San Antonio, Texas, 74-79--153
Luke Travins, Colorado Springs, Colo., 77-77--154
Darren Edwards, Loveland, Colo., 79-75--154
Will Tamplin, Asheville, N.C., 81-73--154
Billy Howenstein, Boulder, Colo., 75-79--154
Bhitchayoot Sima-Aree, Muang Nonthburi, 72-83--155
Kyle Pearson, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 75-80--155
Davis Bryant, Aurora, Colo., 79-76--155
Worathon Zeng, Bangkok, 81-74--155
Calvin McCoy, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 80-75--155
Warut Wongrungroj, Bangkok, 81-74--155
Jake Welch, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 76-79--155
Frederick Gluck, Boulder, Colo., 81-75--156
Lenny Urbas, Evergreen, Colo., 77-80--157
Ian Thorpe, Superior, Colo., 79-79--158
Luke Thomson, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 80-78--158
Hunter Tuite, Englewood, Colo., 78-81--159
Walker Franklin, Broomfield, Colo., 79-80--159
Cameron Nagel, Fort Collins, Colo., 80-79--159
Nattapol Udomrat, Pathumthani, 80-79--159
Ryan Pearson, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 82-78--160
Tyler Zhang, Lone Tree, Colo., 79-81--160
Christopher Kennedy, Aurora, Colo., 86-75--161
Nishant Datta, Broomfield, Colo., 84-77--161
Kailer Rundiks, Denver, Colo., 81-81--162
Jack Hastings, Fort Collins, Colo., 85-78--163
Roger Nakagawa, Denver, Colo., 80-83--163
Drew Anderson, Aurora, Colo., 83-80--163
TJ Shehee, Mead, Colo., 79-84--163
Ivan Richmond, Estes Park, Colo., 80-84--164
Caleb Trost, Billings, Mont., 80-84--164
Drew Mettler, Loveland, Colo., 87-78--165
Mathew Casias, Pueblo, Colo., 84-82--166
Jake Butler, Niwot, Colo., 82-84--166
Jackson Crist, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 88-79--167
Dallas Millin, Wright, Wyo., 87-80--167
Jaxon Franklin, Broomfield, Colo., 81-87--168
Evan Kalac, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 88-80--168
Blake Kuzava, Lakewood, Colo., 82-86--168
David Roney, V, Castle Rock, Colo., 81-87--168
Jacob Smith, Rifle, Colo., 85-84--169
Cade Kilkenny, Centennial, Colo., 81-89--170
Jacob Mason, Westminster, Colo., 87-87--174
Luke Trujillo, Colorado Springs, Colo., 83-91--174
Christopher Dennis, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 90-86--176
Matthew Lefebre, Centennial, Colo., 85-92--177
Zach Gomez, Westminster, Colo., 88-89--177
Andrew Davis, Highlands Ranch, Colo., 86-92--178
Blake Schneiter, Grand Junction, Colo., 89-89--178
Chris Jonell, Centennial, Colo., 94-91--185
Tyler Andrews, Parker, Colo., 98-89--187
Logan Gorman, Phoenix, Ariz., 93-94--187
Liam Ohalloran, Colorado Springs, Colo., 85-102--187
Ethan Alexander, Louisville, Colo., 83-WD
Josh Caridi, Fort Collins, Colo., 79-WD