Two of the region's top college-bound golfers are on a collision course to meet in the final of the 60th International Junior Masters. But no matter what happens from here, James Blackwell of North Tonawanda and Josh Stauffer of Bradford, Pa., have secured places of prominence in the annals of the country's oldest junior invitational golf event.
Blackwell picked up where he left off after carding a 69 in Tuesday's opening medal-round. He shot 1-under 70 Wednesday morning to win medalist honors, capture the Gary Player Cup and tie, at 3 under, the tournament record for lowest 36-hole score by a medalist. He is one of four players all-time to sneak a stroke below 140, a group that includes former PGA Tour player Jim Gallagher Jr.
"It means a lot because the conditions were pretty tough, to be quite honest," Blackwell said.
While Blackwell radiated consistency, Stauffer took medal play to extremes. He shot 78 in the opening round and rebounded Wednesday with a record-shattering 65, a tournament best by two strokes and just one shot off the overall competitive record at East Aurora Country Club. Multiple players had shared the IJM record of 67.
Neither Blackwell (St. Joe's) nor Stauffer (Bradford High) took his foot off the gas in Wednesday afternoon's opening round of match play. Blackwell scorched Nicolas Vanegas of Colombia, 5 and 4, and the second-seeded Stauffer vanquished Luke Atack of Hamilton, Ont., by the identical score.
Two other Western New Yorkers made the 32-man championship flight but dropped tight matches. Jacob Kreuz of Amherst, the No. 4 seed, rallied from three holes down before falling to Andrew Galvin of Webster on the 19th hole. Andrew Romano of Depew was beaten, 1-up, by Ryan Borg of Orangeville, Ont.
Play resumes with matches this morning and afternoon.
Blackwell holds out hope of receiving an invitation to next month's Porter Cup after missing a playoff by a stroke in Monday's qualifier at Niagara Falls Country Club. He's playing here as if determined to drive home his credentials. He started Tuesday's round bogey-par-bogey and then played the rest of the course 5 under. That start didn't look so bad when he triple-bogeyed the par-4 first hole Wednesday before going 4 under the final 17.
"I'm used to starting out bogey [or] double bogey," Blackwell said. "It's not a good thing, that's just how I start until I can get into a groove and then I always come back most of the time. Like at Porter Cup [qualifying], I started out with a double. It doesn't bother me. The triple-bogey today, I was a little concerned."
Once again, the reigning New York State Junior Amateur championship proved resilient. He's made a verbal commitment to attend Ball State in Muncie, Ind., in the fall and says he'll honor his word although other schools are showing interest.
Meanwhile, Stauffer avoided the missteps that caused Blackwell some angst. He opened his final medal round on the back nine and birdied a pair of par-5s, Nos. 12 and 16, along with the par-4 17th. The leap to the record came with a chip-in for eagle on the par-5 third, followed by another birdie on No. 8, a par-3. He threw another five birdies at Atack in the afternoon.
"My whole game came together today," Stauffer said. "I made a lot of putts and hit the ball real close, which helped me out. I was hitting the ball great yesterday, I just couldn't make any putts. I just hit it on the wrong side of the hole, which made it tough to make putts. Today I hit it on the right side and hit it close enough where I could be aggressive and make putts."
Stauffer's father, Kirk, is the long-time pro at Pine Acres Country Club in Bradford and the reigning WNYPGA senior champion. Josh signed with St. Bonaventure earlier this month.