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Hanes living the dream as International Junior Master champion

It’s safe to say that David Hanes has arrived on the local golf scene.

The 18-year-old from Elma finished off a week he’ll never forget Friday by winning the 64th International Junior Masters at East Aurora Country Club.

“I feel like I’m in a dream,” Hanes said. “I could not have thought of a better week. It’s just unbelievable.”

To recap: On Monday, Hanes qualified for the Porter Cup with a round of 67 at Niagara Falls Country Club. Tuesday and Wednesday, he shot even par over 36 holes to take medalist honors in his fifth and final time in the Junior Masters Field. From there, he won five rounds of match play, culminating with a 4 and 3 win over Rochester’s Colin Dubnik on Friday.

Hanes becomes the second straight local winner, following Clarence’s Marc Holzhauer a year ago.

“Me and him are pretty similar games,” Hanes said. “Seeing him win it gave me the confidence to do it.”

To say that Hanes was an unknown coming into the week would be inaccurate. The recent St. Francis graduate is headed to play for Canisius in the fall, so he’s got game. But there’s no doubt the last five days have sent him to another level.

“It honestly has,” he said. “I know I’m legit. If I play my best, I can beat pretty much everyone out here.”

Hanes proved that Friday with a dominant 6 and 5 win in the semifinals against Luis Carrera of Mexico. Dubnik, meanwhile, beat Australian Billy Watson, 4 and 2, to advance to the final.

Perhaps showing some nerves, both players opened with a bogey. Hanes went 1-up on the par-3 second hole, winning it with a bogey after Dubnik flew the green, making double. The final was played in the windiest conditions of the week.

“That was a little bit frustrating, to feel like you’ve hit a good shot,” Dubnik said. “Playing in the wind is something you’ve got to have a lot of experience in. I’ve definitely gotten better over the years, but it’s something to keep working on.”

Hanes reached the par-5 third hole in two shots and had his birdie putt conceded, which gave him a 2-up lead. The match then took a big momentum shift on the par-3 fourth hole.

Dubnik missed the green right, while Hanes was just off the putting surface short left. After Dubnik chipped up to the fringe, Hanes holed his chip shot for a birdie and a 3-up lead.

“That was a great chip,” Hanes said. “I landed it right where I wanted to. I didn’t think it was going to go in, but it dropped.”

Dubnik missed a great chance to get a shot back when he missed an 8-footer for birdie – the start of a frustrating afternoon on the greens.

“My pace on the greens has been great all week and today it wasn’t,” he said. “I was leaving myself 4- and 5-footers for second putts, which isn’t what you want to do in match play. You want to get it close enough to get it conceded. It just put pressure on me and I didn’t knock them in.”

Hanes went 4-up on the par-5 seventh hole, playing an excellent second shot after hitting a tree with his tee shot.

“That was one of the turning points,” he said. “That was a big second shot to put myself in position to save par.”

When Dubnik three-putted the ninth green, it appeared things were all but a formality for Hanes. But momentum can shift quickly in match play, and appeared to do so when Dubnik won the 10th hole. He couldn’t double down, however, when his tee shot on the par-4 11th hole found the trees. Facing a downhill tee shot with out of bounds looming to the right, Hanes split the fairway, eventually winning the hole to re-establish a 5-up lead.

Dubnik stuck with things, though, and won the par-5 12th hole with a two-putt birdie. Hanes’ biggest slip-up then came on the par-3 13th green, when he missed a 2-footer for par that cut his lead to 3-up.

“That was a push,” he said of the putt. “It happens. That was a tough pin. I just misread that putt. It broke maybe more than half a cup, and I didn’t hit it hard enough at all.”

It would have been understandable if Hanes started to feel the pressure at that point. Not since Teddy Collins in 2003 has a player both won medalist honors and the overall championship.

Factor in that Hanes is a member at East Aurora playing in this event for the final time, and it would have been easy for him to start feeling the pressure. If he was, however, he didn’t show it on the 14th hole, again splitting the fairway. Dubnik’s drive, meanwhile, found the left rough, and his approach shot sailed the green into a hazard.

Hanes couldn’t get up and down from a greenside bunker, but still won the hole when Dubnik’s bogey putt missed. From there, all that was needed was a halved hole.

That came on the par-3 15th hole, and when Hanes’ 2-foot par putt dropped, he gave a simple fist pump as a sizable gallery roared.

“I didn’t play too well, but he played well enough to capitalize on my mistakes,” Dubnik said. “He deserves to win the tournament, so I’m happy for him.”

The last EACC member to win the Junior Masters was Jonathan Clark in 2010. Before that, it was E.J. Pfister in 1983, a rarity not lost on Hanes.

“I’ve had confidence, but nothing ever like this,” he said. “I feel like I can tee it up any time and shoot low now.”

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Other flight winners were: Simon Uribe (gold flight, 3 and 2 winner over Mitchell Smith), Erik Schleicher (silver flight, 2-up winner over Cole Hague), Nicholas Castaldo (bronze flight, 3 and 2 over Jack Haxton) and Diego Cordova (consolation flight, 19 holes over Santiago Garcia).

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Award winners for the week were:

• Gary Player Cup (tournament medalist): Hanes, 142.

• Johnny Ryan Trophy (first-day medalist): Tyler Hull, 68.

• Deb Engle Award (Player who demonstrates dedication, improvement and conduct that reflects positively on the game through his repeated competition in the International Junior Masters): Uribe.

• Joseph Griffin Award Winner (medalist 15 years of age or younger): Robbie Latter and Alejandro Madariaga, 150.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com