Coloradans Solem, Bryant, Shehee qualify at Fox Hill for U.S. Junior Amateur; Solem medalist at his home course
By: Gary Baines
Jackson Solem can still distinctly remember the last time U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifying was held at his home course, The Fox Hill Club in Longmont.
It was two years ago, and Solem made it into a playoff where four players competed for the final two available national berths. Alas, despite his home-course advantage, Solem was one of the odd men out.
But fate smiled on the Longmont resident on Tuesday. First, the rules were changed for the 2017 championship, upping the maximum age of entrants from 17 to 18. Solem just happens to be 18, set to play golf for the University of Denver starting in the fall. And then the qualifying tournament returned to Fox Hill, where Solem estimates he's played 1,000 rounds over the last 10 years. In fact, Solem won the 4A state high school individual title at the course in 2015.
And on Tuesday, he earned medalist honors at his home club to qualify for his first USGA championship. The U.S. Junior Amateur will be held July 17-22 at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan.
Solem birdied two of the last three holes to shoot even-par 70 to lead the way out of a field that originally numbered 84. Joining him in earning spots in the U.S. Junior Am were Davis Bryant of Aurora, who has now qualified twice at Fox Hill for the U.S. Junior Amateur, and TJ Shehee of nearby Mead, who like Solem will be going to his first USGA championship. (The qualifiers are pictured, from left, Bryant, Solem and Shehee.)
"I thought it was awesome" that 18-year-olds are allowed to compete in the U.S. Junior Am starting this year, Solem said. "This is something I've never qualified for. I've played in a lot of different things. I missed in a playoff when qualifying was here last time (in 2015). That kind of stung a little bit. Last year I played terribly out at (the qualifier) at Walnut Creek. It was cool to have a shot at redemption."
As for qualifying for his first USGA event, "it means a whole lot," Solem said. "I've heard the USGA championships are awesome -- like the pinnacle of golf. It's cool to get my first one. Getting at least a taste of it at (U.S. Open) Sectionals was so cool. I think it gave me a lot of confidence coming into this. It made me want it a little more even."
Solem, who last week won his third consecutive state Big I Junior Classic, has changed his mental approach to competing on his home course over time.
"I used to (put a lot of pressure on himself) because I play out here all the time so people expect me to play well," he said. "This year I've stopped caring about that so much and think, 'It's another golf course. I just know a little bit more about it than most people.' I just think of it as a little advantage rather than as a curse now. "
Bryant and Shehee matched 1-over-par scores of 71 on Tuesday, tying for second, a stroke behind Solem.
Solem and Shehee were teammates on the Silver Creek High School golf squad, though Solem recently graduated from Longmont Christian and Shehee is a junior-to-be at Mead High School. And Solem and Bryant were teammates on the 2015 and '16 Colorado Junior America's Cup teams.
Bryant, who prevailed in the 2015 playoff in which Solem fell short, also rallied late in his round on Tuesday. After being 4 over par through eight holes, he played his last 10 in 3 under, making four birdies along the way, starting with a 40-footer on his ninth hole. Bryant, who recently won the Colorado Junior PGA Championship, has verbally committed to play his college golf at Colorado State University beginning in 2018.
"I bounced back good" after the rough start, said the Eaglecrest senior-to-be. "I left it all out there and did as best as I could.
"I like this course a lot," Bryant added. "It's always in really good shape. I read the greens pretty well. It's tight with the trees, which I like. I hit it really straight off the teebox. There's a lot of dogleg lefts, which suits my draw. So there's something about this place I really like. It's been good to me.
"I've really had a good start to the summer. To add this one to the schedule will be awesome. My game two years ago is nothing like it is now. I'll definitely be a lot more prepared."
Like Bryant, the 17-year-old son of Green Valley Ranch PGA general manager Matt Bryant, Shehee comes from a family with close ties to the Colorado PGA. His dad, Tray, is an instructor at Ute Creek Golf Course, and his mom, Terra, is the head professional at Boulder Country Club.
"They're definitely the biggest influence on how I'm playing right now," said TJ Shehee, who recently qualified for the Optimist International Junior Championships.
On Tuesday, TJ Shehee made two birdies and three bogeys on the day at Fox Hill, where he often practices.
"This is one of my home courses," the 16-year-old said. "I feel really comfortable here. I've been playing well coming up to this point (of the season), so I thought I had a good chance here.
"To qualify, it's the biggest tournament I've ever played in in my life. It'll be a really great experience."
Several changes were made for the U.S. Junior Amateur starting this year:
-- The qualifying tournament was reduced from the 36 holes it long had been to 18 holes.
-- As noted, the maximum age for competitors has been raised from 17 to 18.
-- And the maximum Handicap Index allowed for players has been lowered from 6.4 to 4.4.
U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifying
At Par-70 The Club at Fox Hill in Longmont
ADVANCE TO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Jackson Solem, Longmont 36-34--70
Davis Bryant, Aurora 33-38--71
TJ Shehee, Mead 37-34--71
ALTERNATES (In Order)
Cal McCoy, Highlands Ranch 35-37--72
Jack Castiglia, Lakewood 34-38--72
For all of Tuesday's scores, CLICK HERE.