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Thomson, at 14, looking to defend Junior Masters title

Will Thomson’s place in the prestigious history of the International Junior Masters is secure.

Last year as a 13-year-old, he became the youngest winner in tournament history. This year, Thomson will look to add to his legacy when the 63rd IJM takes place at East Aurora Country Club.

Two rounds of stroke play begin Tuesday, from which a 32-player championship flight will be constructed. From that point, match play will take over, with a champion being crowned Friday.

If it’s Thomson, he’ll become the first repeat winner since Briny Baird in 1988-89. Only three players have ever won the tournament more than once, and only one player, John Konsek in the 1950s, won it three times.

“You have to start with Will Thomson,” said Jim Johnson, the tournament’s director of player development, when discussing this year’s list of contenders. “It’s great to have our defending champion back.”

Thomson, who in 2013 became the first-ever 12-year-old to compete in the IJM, prevailed last year by defeating Blake Gerber of Mesa, Ariz., in the final.

Up until 2012, no 13-year-olds had ever been in the field.

“It’s not ‘little Will Thomson’ anymore,” Johnson said, referring to the growth spurt that the tournament’s defending champion has gone through. “I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”

This year, there is only one 13-year-old in the 80-player field – Andrew LaCongo of Holland, N.Y. – while Thomson is one of three 14-year-olds.

Thomson will have to outlast a field that as usual features a mix of local talent along with international players. Johnson mentioned a pair of Colombian players in Simon Uribe and Diego Ovalle, both of whom made the championship flight last year, as two prime contenders.

“The Colombian Golf Federation always sends us excellent players,” Johnson said.

Last year, a 36-hole score of 153 was required to make the championship flight. Johnson doesn’t expect that number to change much.

“The field overall is pretty strong,” he said. “If I was a betting man, I’d say the cut will be right around that again. I think you’re going to see the scores tightly packed.”

Not since 2010 has a local player, Jon Clark, won the tournament, but there should be a couple of strong contenders this year.

Randolph’s Nolan Ditcher took Thomson to extra holes last year in the semifinals and is in the field again, while East Amherst’s Ben Reichert is the Section VI champion who was in the championship flight of this event last year.

“Just get into the top 32,” Johnson said of how he tells local players to approach the tournament. “After that, it’s match play, so anything can happen. You’ve got to have the spine for match play. I think Nolan and Ben have that. They know the course, too, and that’s important.”

Tee times for the first round of stroke play begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

14 qualify for state am

Speaking of Reichert, who plays out of Transit Valley, he shot a round of even-par 72 Monday at Crag Burn to tie for first place in the 93rd New York State Golf Association Men’s Amateur championship qualifier at the course.

A total of 14 spots in the State Am, which will be contested July 21-23 at Kaluhyat Golf Club at Turning Stone, were awarded from the field of 71 golfers.

Jim Smith (Crag Burn) and David Berkun (River Oaks) joined Reichert in shooting even par to share medalist honors.

Also qualifying were: Mark Lesinski (River Oaks, 74), Mike Boss (Niagara Falls, 74), Desmond Stoll (Lockport Town & CC, 75), Bob Rosen (Country Club of Buffalo, 75), Kevin Borowicz (River Oaks, 76), Joseph Anderson Jr. (Niagara Falls, 76), Tanner Horn (Diamond Hawk, 76), Brenden Gee (Niagara Falls, 76), Brent Gadacz (Niagara Falls, 77), John Dantonio Jr. (Fox Valley, 77) and Kyle Harman (Crag Burn, 77).

Chip-ins

• Lewiston’s Maren Cipolla continued her recent hot play last week by making it into the championship flight of the 115th Women’s Western Golf Association national amateur championship at the Nashville Golf & Athletic Club in Brentwood, Tenn. Cipolla lost her match in 19 holes against Shannon Gramley of Sharon, Pa., in the round of 64. To qualify for the championship flight, Cipolla shot 5-over 149 over two rounds of medal play, including a round of 1-under 71, finishing in a tie for 14th place.

• The deadline to register for the 73rd New York State Golf Association Junior and Boys championships is 5 p.m. Wednesday. The tournament will be held Aug. 4-5 at The Cedar Lake club in Clayville. The cost is $50 and to be eligible players must be a New York resident or belong to a NYSGA member club. The junior division is for players 15-17 years old as of Aug. 5, while the boys division is for players 14 and younger as of Aug. 5. Those not already exempt must qualify, with the local tournament taking place June 30 at Lancaster Country Club. Visit nysga.org for more information or to register.

• Last week, this column profiled Tonawanda’s Kevin Ciminelli, who made two holes-in-one during a recent round at Peek n’ Peak in Clymer.

In more amazing accomplishments, a pair of local players made an albatross (double eagle) within three weeks of each other.

Eric Brodfuehrer, a former standout soccer player at Kenmore East and Niagara, was on a trip with friends in Huntersville, N.C., playing at Birkdale Golf Club, when he aced the par-4 10th hole, which measured 255 yards. Brodfuehrer and his group didn’t see the ball go in, but found it in the hole when they got to the green.

Brodfuehrer’s roommate, Kris Boyes, made his albatross during a recent round at Crag Burn on the par-5 14th hole, which measured 505 yards. After a 3-wood off the tee, he hit a 5-iron from 211 yards that found the cup.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com