One year after bursting onto the scene as a fledging program, the Hobbits Glen PGA Junior League team has effectively taken the next step.
Traveling to Virginia for the Middle Atlantic PGA Junior League Final Four last weekend, the team won its semifinal match-up against Army-Navy Country Club and then prevailed in a playoff against Highlands Country Club in the finals to be crowned champions for the first time.
Hobbit’s Glen, which finished in third place last year in its first year competing, was down 4.5-1.5 in the championship match played at Fredericksburg Country Club before rallying to tie things up 6-6 at the end of regulation. Then, courtesy of a birdie on the first extra hole, the team completed the improbable comeback.
“The atmosphere from a team standpoint was amazing, especially during the playoff, and that’s something you don’t get too often in golf,” said Paul Maurer, who is Player Development Coordinator for Columbia Association Golf and the team’s head coach. “Seeing the kids working together and cheering on their teammates was great and it all kind of led up to the grand moment at the end.
“I’m sure it’s something the kids will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Matches feature four groups of two or three players competing head-to-head against another team for “flags.” Each match-up is played under a scramble format over nine holes and every three holes a new flag is up for grabs.
The Hobbit’s Glen traveling team consists of 10 players between the ages of 7-13 — Mark Berg, Keagan Graves, William Griffith, Lindsay Hong, Benjamin Siriboury, Cole Spies, Dustin Stocksdale, Colin Vineberg, Helen Yeung and Michelle Yeung. Of that group, Graves, Hong, Siriboury and Spies were also on last year’s final four squad.
Maurer says the program currently has a total of 40 kids — including 11 females — and the competition team is determined through a series of qualifiers.
On its road to this year’s finals, Hobbit’s Glen had an opening-round bye and then defeated Musket Ridge (11.5-.5) to advance to the final four. Then the team defeated Army-Navy (9-3) to set up the title showdown.
It was Highlands CC, however, that stormed out of the gates to a commanding lead in the championship match. It wasn’t until Siriboury hit a 3-wood to within five feet for eagle on the par 5 third hole that Hobbit’s Glen earned its first full flag — creating a 4.5-1.5 deficit.
But after that the team slowly turned the momentum in its favor. Helen Yeung made a 20-foot birdie on the fifth hole and that was the start of the team capturing three straight flags to tie the match.
Then on the final hole of regulation, the last group of Berg, Graves and Hong delivered a key up-and-down to lock up the sixth flag needed to force a playoff.
In the playoff, Vineberg hit a big drive and then Stocksdale hit his wedge shot within 10 feet. With a chance to win the match, he walked in the birdie putt and set off a wild celebration.
“There must have been 50 or so people watching and the entire team went crazy when [the putt] went in,” Maurer said. “For the program, after getting here last year and finishing third, this was certainly a goal of ours. So to win, and to do it like that, it was just really special.”
When the program got off the ground in the spring of 2017, there were only a handful of kids on board. But by last fall there were 23 team members and this year that number nearly doubled.
Nationally, the PGA Junior League has seen significant growth as well — up from 42,000 kids in 2017 to 52,000 in 2018.
The extra participation at Hobbits has allowed Maurer to get his own internal junior league off the ground, giving all the players even more chances to experience a competitive environment.
Maurer has his share of help as well, with two assistants on board this year to help work with the players. William Kim, who will be heading off to play golf at Concordia University Texas this spring, and Atholton High junior Branden Nguyen have each been heavily involved.
The goal of the program, aside from providing an introduction to the game, is to help prepare these junior players for future competition. In that light, Maurer took great pride in seeing several of last year’s team members that graduated the program make significant contributions on their high school teams this fall.
For example, Robbie Graham (River Hill) and Daniel Tuma (Marriotts Ridge) each finished among Howard County’s top 20 scorers this season. Graham helped River Hill finish second at the state tournament as a team for the first time.
In an effort to further facilitate the ties between the current and former players, the program has added a new “Alumni Scramble” as part of the end of season festivities.
Looking ahead, Maurer says the next step is gearing up for spring league play and preparing for a potential run to the regional and national tournaments next summer. This past year, the team made it to the section championship before falling just short of regionals.
“As a coach, sitting back now that the fall season is over, it’s hard to believe where we were a year ago compared to where we are now,” Maurer said. “It’s not just the number of kids playing, it’s the amount of kids that are now interested in playing competitively and willing to put in the work to keep getting better. It’s hard to imagine how much further along we might be a year from now … there’s a lot of potential with this group.”