By Greg Gulas
The Greatest Golfer
WARREN – A par on the final hole helped lift Michael Porter to a one-stroke victory over Jake Sylak in this year’s The “Joe” Dickey Electric 17U Greatest Golfer Youngstown juniors championship Saturday at Avalon Lakes Golf Course.
Porter, who was tied with Sylak for the lead at 77 heading into Saturday’s final round, shot 73 for a two-day total 150. Sylak, who won last year’s 17-U event and was also the 14-U champ in 2016, finished as runner-up.
Caleb Domitrovich (78-78) was third, carding 156 to finish six strokes off the pace.
In girl’s 17-U action, McKenzie Gustas (87-81), the 14-U runner-up two years ago, posted 168, eight shots better than three-time titlist and defending champion Leah Benson (89-87, 176). Madison Murphy (91-89) carded 180 to finish third, 12 shots in back of Gustas.
Alex Eckstein (38-38) made a successful GGY debut, carding 76 to win the 14-U boys crown while Luciana Masters won the 14-U girl’s championship after fashioning a 77 for her 18 holes of play.
Nicholas Beistel and Matthew Morelli each carded 80 to tie for second, four shots behind Eckstein, with Beistel claiming runner-up laurels by virtue of a scorecard play-off.
Kate Sowers’ 78 was the 14-U girls’ runner-up, a stroke behind Masters while Sasha Petrochko claimed third-place honors, fashioning a 79 to finish two strokes off the pace.
For Porter, who was playing in his fourth championship and was runner-up in 14-U play his first year, the 18th hole was a real nail-biter.
“On the final hole, I hit my drive that barely cleared the bunker but ended up in the fairway,” said Porter, who attends McDonald High School and won his first GGY title. “I hit the green with my No.6 iron, needing to make about a 40-foot putt for birdie. I left it about two-feet short and ended up with par.
“I’ve played well all year and the last five years I’ve been close. The hard work really paid off today.”
A bogey on the final hole kept Sylak, who attends Mineral Ridge High School and has two championships to his credit, from forcing a playoff with Porter. It would have been back-to-back crowns for Sylak — not done before in GGY.
“I came off a really nice par on the 17th hole, but got a little too aggressive on No. 18,” Sylak added. “I hit a dead straight drive into the woods and it cost me. I needed to chip as close as possible to the pin to give myself a chance. But I didn’t get it close enough.”
Like Porter, Domitrovich also attends McDonald High School and two years ago was the boys’ 14-U champion.
“You cannot ask for anything more than to be in a position to win when you are on the last hole,” he stated. “I had a great time playing with both Michael and Jake because we push each other to play our best golf.”
Gustas, who had a two-stroke lead on Benson after the opening round, carded an 81 during final-round action for her eight-stroke victory.
She was the girls’ 14-U runner-up in 2018 and qualified for the finals in 2019, but was unable to participate.
“I didn’t play my best today. But I didn’t have a big number on any hole either,” noted Gustas, who will be a junior this fall at Hickory High School. “The key was my overall game. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad.”
Being a runner-up is something new for Benson, who also attends Hickory High and has known nothing other than being a GGY champion — having won last year’s 17-U crown, and 14-U titles in both 2017 and 2018.
“My ball went into the water on No. 9 and I took an eight, which was costly,” Benson said. “I started coming back on the back nine, but a bogey on No. 17 and a triple bogey on No. 18 really hurt me.
“I had a lot of fun because my dad caddied for me. It was the first time that he ever did that and we both had a great time.”
Murphy was runner-up last season in the 14-U division.
“I had a 40 on the front nine today, but my swing broke down on the back nine,” added Murphy, a Canfield High School student. “I got fatigued and the bounces just didn’t go my way. Pine Lakes in my home course but I’ve always liked and enjoyed playing Avalon Lakes. Today was fun.”
Eckstein is a seventh-grader at Holy Family School.
“The course was definitely a challenge,” Eckstein stated. “The greens played firm and the fairways rolled fast. I had fun with my group while the goal now is to come back next year to defend my title.”
Masters, an eighth-grader in the Hickory School District, was playing in her second event.
“This was my first tournament win so I am very excited,” Masters noted. “I had a 36 on the front nine but was disappointed in my 41 on the back nine. I felt like I could have done better.”
Eric Carlson, president of Joe Dickey Electric, said the Dickeys have always been passionate about giving back to the community and especially for local youth.
“Joe, Jr. has always been a supporter locally. He wants to give back to our youth and was very active in the Shriners,” Carlson stated. “Their passion was instilled in me and when Todd Franko contacted me about sponsoring the Greatest Golfer, I jumped at the opportunity.
“My son, Gavin, had a great experience last year and with everything that is going on — we’re very proud to be a Greatest sponsor. Three years ago, Gavin took up the game and has a passion for it. As a dad, it was whole lot of fun to be out there today.”
Franko, aided by assistant Ted Suffolk, is in his 11th year of directing the GGY.
“We’re just so proud to be here given all that has gone on the last 12 months,” Franko noted. “The bouncing back started with this group of players and ‘Joe’ Dickey, and I’m just so thrilled to keep the Greatest Golfer going.”