LA QUINTA, Calif. – Of the 600-plus golfers competing at Am Tour National Championship this week at PGA West, the vast majority of them are of the middle-aged variety, often taking the opportunity that comes with grown children and a looser leash at the office to put a little more focus back on their games.
Then there's Vijay Jain. At 14 years of age, he's the youngest competitor this week by six full years. A freshman at San Marino High School, Jain relishes the chance Am Tour affords him to play against grown men.
"There's a whole different level of maturity with these guys," said Jain. "Some of the younger guys can't really handle themselves on the golf course. With the older guys there's more joking around and it's more fun than serious."
"But I still get to kick their butts."
Jain is competing in the Sarazen flight this week (handicaps 12-15.9). Halfway thru Nationals, Jain finds himself tied for third place halfway thru the event, seven shots behind Deke Cooper, 37, from Atlanta. A shot behind Cooper is Alex Lundquist, 43, from Long Island City, N.Y. Jain competed in nine Am Tour events this season, highlighted by a 3rd place finish in the Northern California Championship, a two-day major event at Bayonet and Blackhorse Golf Courses.
Jain has been playing the game since a young age. His father, Ati, took up the game himself in 1998 after watching Tiger Woods at a local event he volunteered at, and competes on Am Tour himself in the Jones flight. He won his flight at the Northern California Championship at Bayonet and Blackhorse. He's on Vijay's bag this week, while mother and sister are also following the action.
Vijay, after playing all sorts of sports growing up including basketball and football, recently made the decision recently to narrow his focus on golf, and he joined the Am Tour for the 2014-15 season.
"I like how on the Am Tour, every event is flighted," said Vijay. "So you're playing guys at a similar level."
Vijay's level may be changing fast.
A recent dedication to the short game helped his game jump ahead further. He saw a short game coach last month that's helped him shave, his estimation, a solid five shots. He and his father Ati play a lot of their golf at Alhambra Municipal Golf Course, a 5,400-yard muni where juniors can play for $1. So a big appeal to Golf Channel Am Tour events are the tournament quality venues. Jain's 2015 schedule included Grayhawk Golf Club and Barona Creek. This Spring, at the Western Masters at PGA West, Jain followed up a first round 98 on the Nicklaus Course with a 79 on the Stadium Course.
Familiarity with top venues is all part of the plan, according to his father.
"We're really trying to focus on these kinds of courses that are challenging," said Ati Jain. "And also hopefully on a college circuit."
Jain plans on using Am Tour as a springboard to competing in more American Junior Golf Asssoication (AJGA) events, where over the course of his high school career, hopes to eventually become a ranked player and catch the eye of college coaches. Having only recently turned his main focus to golf, Jain's a little behind compared to the state's top players in his graduation class, but that's ground the Jains are confident Vijay can make up in no time.
"He's made a commitment to play golf," said Ati. "So you're seeing exponential increase in his ability. His talent has always been there.
So will youth prevail in the Sarazen flight? Or will the 37-year-old Cooper hang on? Check back Tuesday night for full results.
Jackson notches first hole-in-one of Nationals
When Broderick Jackson came to the 4th hole of the Stadium Course at PGA West (his 13th of the day), he was just trying to get a rhythm going. Competing in the Sarazen flight (12.0-15.9 handicaps), his opening 53 on the front nine yielded no pars on the sinister Pete Dye design.
Then, on the 153-yard 4th, Jackson committed to a 7-iron and hit it flush. As it was in the air, playing partners began to clamor for it to go in the hole. And sure enough, it dropped.
"I’m still in awe," said Jackson. "It's one thing to go back and tell people you had a hole-in-one but another when you're around your peers in a major tournament to have that happen to you."
Jackson who was a racer for 26 years in the NHRA and American Drag Racing League, is competing in his third national championship. In 2013, he competed in the Snead flight (20-plus handicaps) and has since jumped into the Jones and now the Sarazen. Jackson said there are similarities between the two very different sports.
"There's a saying in racing that it's 10% the machine and the human is 90%," said Jackson. "With golf it's the same thing. If you're not mentally tough, you don't succeed at it."