by Gary Baines - 8/2/2017Call Kyle Pearson of Highlands Ranch a master of match play in Colorado in 2017. Call Emma Bryant of Aurora the comeback kid and give her credit for keeping alive hopes for the "Bryant Slam" in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado majors this year.
In June, Pearson (left) went 5-1 in his matches and finished runner-up to Chris Korte in the CGA Match Play Championship. Six weeks later, he went 5-0 and won the boys title on Wednesday in the Colorado Junior Match Play at Black Bear Golf Club in Parker.
"I think I'm starting to like it better," the 18-year-old said of match play. "Not that stroke play doesn't suit my game, but I feel I can get on a run where I make lots of birdies. ... Once you get going in match play and you're playing good, it's easier to keep the momentum going."
Meanwhile, after her older brother Davis Bryant won the first two JGAC majors of the year on the boys side but couldn't compete this week because of a scheduling conflict with the national Junior PGA Championship, 14-year-old Emma Bryant took up the family cause with her improbable performance this week. In Wednesday's semifinals at Black Bear, she came from 4 down after seven holes to defeat Sydney Eye of Golden in 20 holes. Then in the final, she lost the first two holes to 5A state high school champion Amy Chitkoksoong, but put on a dazzling putting display to beat her fellow Aurora resident, 1 up for the girls title.
"(Davis) won the first and second (junior majors)," Emma Bryant noted. "He's kind of a hard person to live up to because he's done so much. When he wasn't going to be here, everyone was kind of bummed. But I'm like, 'Hey, I could win one. Then it would be three down. You've only got one more (major, the Junior Tour Championship), right?' That would be really cool if it did happen."
Bryant (left), who needed just 27 putts during the final, sank a 12-foot birdie on No. 18 to earn the trophy. It was roughly the same putt she made in the semifinals to force extra holes. Ironically, Chitkoksoong won this title in 2015 at age 14, as Bryant did on Wednesday. Bryant will be a freshman at Eaglecrest High School, while Chitkoksoong will be a junior at Grandview.
"She's a great player," Chitkoksoong said of Bryant. "It was a rough round playing with her. She's an upcoming player to look out for. She took it in the end with a birdie. With a birdie you deserve the (victory).
"In match play, the number of strokes (overall) obviously don't matter. If (your opponent) has a great putting day, it's hard to make a comeback. She's a great putter, and even though my hitting may have been one of my best days, she overcame it."
For his part, Pearson (below) defeated Ty Findlow of Lone Tree 2 and 1 in the semis, then topped No. 1-seeded Jack Castiglia in the finals, 4 and 3, closing out his junior golf career in style. The 18-year-old Colorado Mesa University golf signee birdied the first two holes and the last against Castiglia, two-putting from 40 feet for a 4 on the par-5 15th for the victory. Pearson adds the Colorado Junior Match Play title to the 5A state high school championship he won last fall.
"State was my last high school tournament. This is my last junior tournament ever. Maybe I should make every tournament my last tournament," Pearson said with a chuckle.
Pearson won the first three holes against Castiglia, who made it to the semifinals in this event last year. But the Lakewood resident bounced back with birdie putts of 30 and 20 feet on Nos. 5 and 6, cutting his deficit to 1 down. However, bogeys on 8 and 12 and a double bogey on No. 10, where he hit his drive into some bushes, put Castiglia in a deep hole from which he couldn't extricate himself.
"Kyle played a great final round," said Castiglia, who was attempting to follow Griffin Barela as Lakewood High School players to win the Junior Match Play. "I didn't play how I wanted to but he played great.
"It was good to get to the finals this year, but I would have liked to have closed it out."
In the girls final, Bryant (left) started on a decidedly low note, hitting her drive on the first hole into a bush and losing the ball -- and subsquently the hole. And she lost No. 2 when she missed a 6-foot par putt. But given the comeback she had put together in the semifinals against Eye, she wasn't discouraged.
"With Sydney it was kind of hard because I was 4 down," Bryant said. "This could be a quick day for me, but you can't think like that because with match play you never know. I had the same mindset the entire time: shot-by-shot, hole-by-hole, make a good swing, make good putts and everything is going to fall into place. That's what I kept going by.
"(So 2 down in the finals), I was kind of thinking, 'I got from 4 down to winning (in the semis).' I was like, '2 down, let's do this.' Then I won No. 3."
But the dagger may have come on the par-5 13th, where Bryant was left with a 50-foot par putt, while Chitkoksoog was 20 feet away for birdie. Bryant not only made her putt, but her ball hit the back of the hole hard enough that it bounced about 6 inches into the air before finding the bottom of the cup. Then Chitkoksoong two-putted for par to halve the hole she thought she would win.
"It gets frustrating when she makes putts that are further out than you, then you miss your putt for the win," said Chitkoksoong. "I thought I was going to get a point up there (at No. 13) and she makes that long putt -- sort of like how I did two years back against Jaclyn (Murray in the final). Seeing that comeback (really) hits right here close to the heart. ... With players who don't have an up-and-down scorecard -- when their scorecard is pretty even -- it's hard to play against."
Bryant and Chitkoksoong (left) ended up halving every hole from 11 through 17 with the match all square. Then on 18, from 115 yards out, Bryant put her 9-iron approach 12 feet from the hole, in a very similar position where she made a birdie against Eye.
"Going into 18, my mindset was, 'I need to birdie this hole,'" Bryant said. "She hit her first putt off the green (but regardless) I wanted to finish on a good note -- with a birdie because that's what I had told myself that I was going to do."
And when the putt fell, she punctuated the moment with a clenched fist -- then a big smile.
Asked to candidly say whether she went into the week thinking she had a chance to win it all, Bryant admits she didn't. But that thinking obviously changed as the week went on.
"My goal was to win the first and second match," she said. "Once I won my second match, I was like, 'OK, let's see what we can do the second match of the (second) day. Then once I won that, going into the third day, why not go for it all, right?"
Colorado Junior Match Play
At Black Bear Golf Club in Parker
Jack Castiglia of Lakewood def. Luke Travins of Colorado Springs, 20 holes
Kyle Pearson of Highlands Ranch def. Ty Findlow of Lone Tree, 2 and 1
Amy Chitkoksoong of Aurora def. Josie Baker of Sherman Oaks, Calif., 5 and 3
Emma Bryant of Aurora def. Sydney Eye of Golden, 20 holes
Kyle Pearson of Highlands Ranch def. Jack Castiglia of Lakewood, 4 and 3
Emma Bryant of Aurora def. Amy Chitkoksoong of Aurora, 1 up
For the brackets for each tournament, click on the following: BOYS, GIRLS.