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Gifts go Santa’s way at Junior Masters

Evan Santa owes his college education and golf career to the International Junior Masters.

The Maryland native, who lost in the semifinals Friday to MacKenzie Carter at East Aurora Country Club, has played in the Junior Masters four straight years. But it’s not only the players who travel hundreds of miles for this tournament.

Santa met Mark Leon, Penn State assistant golf coach and Santa’s future coach, at last year’s Junior Masters.

The tournament also helped Santa start a friendship with Connor Raeman, who won the silver flight championship Friday over Sean O’Hara, 4 and 3. Raeman and Santa will play at Penn State together next year.

But Santa isn’t just a talented golfer, he’s also one of the classiest players on the course. Santa won the tournament’s Deb Engle Award, given to the golfer who “demonstrates dedication, improvement and conduct that reflects positively on the game.”

“That was a huge honor,” Santa said. “I’ve always hoped to have good sportsmanship and hope I’m respectful to the competitors and the golf course and the staff, but to win that is a big honor. I wondered if I would have had a chance in prior years when I’ve seen kids win it, but I never actually thought I would, so it’s pretty cool to get that.”

This was Santa’s best finish in his four years in the tournament, even though he barely made the championship flight. He was ranked No. 29 after medal play, and only the top 32 play in the championship round.

“It’s always been a great time,” Santa said. “It’s always a fun week to come back here, escape from the heat and humidity of Maryland, play a beautiful golf course and enjoy the really good competition and the nice people at this golf course.”

After winning his previous two rounds on the 18th hole, Luis Carrera was thankful it didn’t come down to that in the consolation flight championship. Carrera defeated Matthew Vihant, 5 and 4.

“I felt really good. I just had confidence, made par putts, it was good,” the Mexico City native said. “I just needed to make pars and that’s it.”

Sean Trapp, who won the gold flight with a 2 and 1 finish over Zack Mason, admitted to feeling exhausted. He also felt relieved for ending it on the 17th hole because “I don’t really have a good record on 18,” he said.

“I didn’t get into the championship or consolation,” Trapp said, “but when I got into gold I wanted to win it.”

Ciaran MacMillan defeated Erik Schleicher, 2 up, in the bronze flight championship.

Carter, Baker Stevenson and Will Thomson were the Gary Player Cup winners, awarded for posting the top score over the first two days. All three tied with a 146. Thomson also won the Joseph Griffin Award, given to the lowest score for a player younger than 16.

Patrick DiPasquale, Ben Reichert and Carter were the John Ryan Trophy winners, for posting the lowest score on the first day. They all shot a 73.