Golfer withstands pressure for a victory

By DAVE THEALL, Times Correspondent
Published September 2, 2007

Pressure. That's what a first-round leader feels in a 36-hole match teeing it up during the final round.

Travis Ralph, 16, felt that pressure and more at last weekend's Sam Parks Junior Invitational at Belleair's par-71 West course overlooking Clearwater Harbor.

The two-shot lead Ralph had over Tyler Wilkins of Clearwater after opening with a 67 eroded through 15 holes Sunday to the point he was one behind. Ralph birdied the 16th and 17th holes to regain the lead by one. He and Wilkins, a senior at Countryside High, bogeyed the 418-yard, par-4 18th, allowing him to preserve the narrow margin.

Ralph was elated and relieved to win the emotional roller-coaster match.

"I've been in contention other times and not won, so it was nice to finish strong today and earn the win," said Ralph, who practices at Belleair, where he caddies. "I kept telling myself that I've been in this situation many times before, that I practice every day for this opportunity and that I am prepared to win."

Ralph said he had a second strong motivation to prevail.

"My instructor, Dean Hedstrom at Belleair, was out there with me both days as he has been on hot practice days despite the fact he's battling cancer. I dedicated this win to him."

Ralph created the first-round gap over the field by having four birdies and an eagle in his opening round 67. The eagle came on the 518-yard No. 9 hole, where he drove 275 yards, hit his approach to just off the green and then chipped in from 30 feet.

"It was nice to finish strong," said Ralph, who will concentrate on Florida Junior Tour events this fall rather than prep golf. "My ambition remains to play college golf then professionally."

Wilkins shot 69-72 for 141 to finish second, and Chris Biuso of Tampa tied with Rick Kittlestad of Lutz for third at 142. Kittlestad won the Ryan Wells Invitational at Innisbrook two weeks ago. Zach Sobel, the Times' Pinellas high school player of the year in 2005 and '06, shot 71-74 for 145.

Clearwater's Ryan Hicks finished second (74-85-159) in the 12-and-under division.

Evan Jensen of Belleair had Sunday's best round, a 3-under 68, to go with her opening 71 for 139 and six-stroke margin over two players: Maria Castellanos of Stuart and Carlie Yadloczky of Casselberry. Andrea Messer, the girls winner in 2005 and '06, finished fourth at 148 (72-76).

PGA WEST CENTRAL CHAPTER: The Vinoy's Randy Mosley shot 1-under 70 on Tuesday at Belleair to win the chapter's annual senior championship with 142, five strokes ahead of Jay Overton of Innisbrook, who shot 71-76-147. Mosley, 52, was tied after 14 holes in the final round then distanced himself with birdies on 15 and 16.

"It's always nice to win," Mosley said. "I stayed focused in this tournament, and that helped a lot. At last month's (open) chapter championship at Old Memorial, I held the lead at one point but didn't stay focused and didn't go on to win."

Tom Doozan of Apollo Beach finished third (148), followed by Tom McCrary of Glen Lakes in Brooksville at 149, Matt Cote of Fox Hollow at 150, Buck Thornbury of Seminole Lake at 154, Fred Bender of Downs Practice Facility at 156 and Jim King of the Bayou Club at 157.

Gary Metzger won (79-78-157) the super senior division (60-plus), followed by Hank Davis shooting 82-79-161.

PGA TOUR: Dunedin's Bob Heintz finished strong at last weekend's Barclay's tournament, finishing with 6-under 65, vaulting from 128 to 121 on the tour's 2007 official money list with $599,966 and 125th on the FedEx Cup playoff points list. Placing 120 or better was necessary to advance to this weekend's second FedEx event, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside of Boston.

TRAVELING TEAM: Jim Slattery, director of golf at Belleair, and brother Chris, head pro at Avila, flew to Ireland on Tuesday with a group of 30 golfers to play nine courses in nine days. Two of the courses are ranked among the top two in the world.

COLLEGE TEAMS: Former Times players of the year Jason Elliott (Palm Harbor U.) at USF and P.J. Kolosvary (Countryside) at Nova Southeastern will compete again this year. Jeremy Evans (Cambridge School) is Emory University's No. 1 player. Freshmen Preston Knox (Dunedin High) and Matt Alwin (Largo High) will compete for positions on the Warner Southern team.

The top women returning include Brittany Jones (East Lake) at Youngstown State, Danielle Jackson (Northside Christian) at Stetson, Lara Smilnak (CCC) at Boston College and Rachel Edwards (Seminole High) at Daytona Beach Community College. Courtney Harter (Palm Harbor) will be a freshman competing for playing time at the University of Alabama.

Alabama, Florida and 14 other women's teams will compete in the Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship on Nov. 4-6 in Kissimmee.

ST. PETERSBURG CC PRO-AM: The LPGA's Brittany Lincicome and Florida Gator coach Buddy Alexander are expected to play in the Sept. 24 event. Lincicome's next tournament is the Solheim Cup on Sept. 14-16 in Halmstad, Sweden, pitting the top 12 U.S. women vs. Europe's top 12 women.

CORRECTION: Belleview Biltmore teaching pro Bill Shriver shot 7-under 64 to break Belleair's East course record of 65.