By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
One national champion is something to be proud of.
But three from the same Twin Cities and the same course?
“It’s huge,” Raines, a Grade 8 student at Doon Public School, said. “Six of us from here went and the fact that three of us won was pretty special.”
That was the case earlier this month when Kitchener’s Keaton Jones and Mackenzie Raines, along with Waterloo’s Jack Quirke, all members of Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, won their division at the Maple Leaf Junior Tour Boston Pizza National Championships in Phoenix, Ariz.
It was the second year in a row that Waterloo Region had a strong showing at the final Maple Leaf Junior Tour stop.
In 2011, Jones led the way as three local players — Kitchener’s Max Clift and Cambridge native Matt Chiasson — drove, chipped and putted their way to top-three finishes at ChampionsGate Golf Club in Orlando, Fla.
Yet Jones, Quirke and Raines managed to top that feat this year at Legacy Golf Resort in Phoenix.
Jones moved up to the top age group for his second MJT title in as many years, firing rounds of 71 and 69 to win by a stroke over three players from Alberta and British Columbia. Fellow Whistle Bear teammates Chiasson and Kitchener’s Colton Clemmer finished four shots back in a tie for fifth, while Waterloo’s Rhys Davis was eight shots off the pace in 11th.
It capped off a long, gruelling season for the lanky St. Mary’s High School student.
On the one hand, the 17-year-old found consistency in his game, which helped limit the damage during bad rounds. At the same time, he was unable to break through for a big performance — like in 2011, when he won a PGA junior series championship and finished second at the Ontario juveniles.
Part of that, he believes, was due to fatigue from so many tournaments.
But Jones had his chances. He was in the final group in the final round of the Ontario junior championship before finishing in a tie for 15th. He made it to the Canadian juniors, too, but missed the cut.
Then in September, he was one of four Canadians to attend the Srixon International Junior Classic in New South Wales, Australia.
Now, with another MJT title in hand, he is hoping the win in Phoenix will boost his confidence heading into 2013 and attract some American college attention.
“It just kind of tops the season off,” he said.
Quirke, meanwhile, won the 14- to 16-year-old division title in a three-hole playoff over Caledonia’s Craig Stefureak with Waterloo’s Brenden Henriques, another Whistle Bear member, nine shots back in a tie for 14th.
Raines, 13, held off a hard-charging Tyler Nagano in the final round to win the 13-and-under division by a stroke.
All three said a lot of their success can be attributed to the atmosphere and competitive environment at Whistle Bear.
With players like Waterloo’s Luke Moser, a Canadian junior boys championship contender and the 2012 OFSAA boys golf champion, roaming the clubhouse on any given day at Whistle Bear, it’s not hard to find a highly competitive match.
“You come out here and any day you can find a game with someone who can beat you,” Jones said. “They’re all pretty much the same skill level.”
Their coach, Mike Skimson, had the three on the course right up until the MJT final, too, since Whistle Bear closed the Sunday before the tournament’s Nov. 16 start.
It was an advantage the trio believes gave them an edge as they hacked around in shirts and shorts in Arizona.
“A lot of people from out of the province hadn’t hit balls in two months,” Quirke said.
“One guy I was golfing with from Manitoba said it was minus-16 where he was from,” Raines added. “So we’re very lucky to be here.”