Two years ago Billy Hanes played in the International Junior Masters at East Aurora Country Club out of courtesy.
It wasn't that his game was particularly good, but he was the son of a member, and a certain number of spots in the field are allotted to local players. He shot, if he remembers right, 86 and 89 in medal play. That's where Hanes' game was two years ago, at the age of 13.
Talk of the progress Hanes was making began to filter around the local golf scene last summer, when he won the championship consolation flight of the IJM. Later, he won the state boys championship. In November, he placed second at a Nike junior golf tour event played at Pinehurst No. 1.
Progress? It seemed like Hanes was taking a stroke a month off his game.
There's no telling how good Hanes could turn out to be. He'll be entering his sophomore year at St. Francis High School in the fall. He's grown some six inches since last summer, stands 5-foot-8, and now has a power game to go with trademark dead-eye putting. His goal for this year's International Junior Masters was to make the round of 16. He's well beyond that. Today he was to meet a player of national renown, Matt Every of Daytona Beach, in the semifinals of the 49th annual event.
Hanes scored a 2 and 1 victory over
Tyler Randol of Lawerence in the round of 16. It was a match in which Hanes was 2-under after eight holes -- and trailing by two holes. His afternoon match was a reversal of the morning, as he built a 5-up lead over Logan Riester of Pittsburgh after 10 holes before repelling a Riester rally and holding on, 3 and 2.
Hanes is the last of the four local players who made the round of 16 still alive in the championship flight. Jeremy Wabick of Orchard Park beat Andrew Dibitetto of Rochester, 3 and 2, in the morning to make the round of eight but ran into a torpedo in medalist Santiago Caicedo of Colombia, who defeated him, 6 and 5. Caicedo, who shot even-par over 36 holes of medal play, was to face fellow Colombian Julian Colmenares in this morning's semifinals. Colmenares ousted Yoshio Yamamoto of Mexico, 5 and 4, in the quarters.
Matt Thomas, Wabick's teammate on the Orchard Park golf team and a semifinalist here last year, was upset by Riester in the quarterfinals, 2 and 1. Jay Lindell of Lakewood, who plays for Southwestern, was upended in a 20-hole quarterfinal by Mexican Efren Serna, the younger brother of former IJM champ Oscar Serna. Efren Serna was eliminated, 3-2, by Every, who's No. 30 in the country in the latest American Junior Golf Association rankings.
The semifinals will be played at 8:54 and 9 this morning, with the final scheduled for 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Hanes has been fanatical about golf since he first picked up a club at the age of 2. He quickly became a good player by most standards, but not good enough to compete with other top junior players who were members at East Aurora, such as Tim Smith and Mark Nihill.
Hanes decided to turn his game over to noted local instructor Gary Battistoni.
"I wasn't doing that great, and some of my friends were going to Gary, so I started going to Gary," Hanes said. "He totally changed my swing, and I started to play better about a half-year after going. I go to him once every two weeks in the winter and once every week now. And I probably play golf five times a week."
"He lives for golf," said Hanes' mother, Valerie. "Someone was telling me that their son was excited to play here. He's been talking about it since March. Billy's been talking about this since right after last year's tournament ended."
Hanes nearly saw his quarterfinal match slip away. Riester made birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 to trim his deficit to three holes. He won No. 13 with a bogey. He was on the verge of creeping within one on the par-3 15th, but Hanes made a 20-footer to save par and halve the hole.
"I was nervous," Hanes said. "He was putting on the pressure big-time."
He heads into the semifinals, his aspirations having been adjusted.
"My goal this year was to make the championship flight and then win a match in the championship flight," Hanes said. "I didn't think I was going to go this far.
"Now I want to do something. Now I want to try to win."