WATERTOWN — For many of the golfers participating in the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship at the Willowbrook Golf Club, this weekend’s event was their first tournament of 2020.

The course was a little dry due to recent weather, making for a challenging 18 holes, but nevertheless it was a chance to play competitive golf with a group of talented players ranging from 16 years old to 77 years old.

That sort of social interaction has been rare these past four months and could continue to be rare throughout the summer with COVID—19 still holding a grip on the country.

For junior golfers Jonathan Babcock, David Linstruth and Jillian Draper, the Amateur Golf Championship offered them a chance at competing following a lost high school golf season. Ryan Blevins, a freshman at Jefferson Community College, and Nick Spicer, a senior at Watertown, also missed out on golf seasons in the spring.

For Spicer, the decision to play in the tournament on Saturday came at the expense of missing his high school graduation.

“I want to play golf all year,” Spicer said. “I’ve loved golf my whole life, so I might as well enjoy the first tournament I get to play in.”

Spicer works at Willowbrook, so he has had plenty of practice on the course and is very familiar with it — but with the dry weather recently, he found it extra challenging.

“My hardest part is probably out in front of the greens, we’ve had some horribly dry weather,” Spicer said. “It got really dried out so we had to go a club or two short just to get a good bounce even though you don’t know where the bounce is going to go half the time.”

For all the junior golfers participating, the 2020 spring season was supposed to be an opportunity to make it to sectionals. The loss of that chance was disappointing.

“It was a bummer, we were really looking forward to it,” Babcock said. “We had a really young team this year; most of our team was going to be middle schoolers. I was either going to be one or two man this year as a sophomore, so it was kind of a bummer to miss it. And last year I qualified for sectionals and I was really looking forward to that again this year.”

Babcock, Linstruth, Spicer and Blevins played in a group together while Draper played with Maureen McDavitt and Carmen Cring. For Draper, the tournament was not only a chance to play, but also to learn.

“I learn quite a lot about sportsmanship and how to play and a lot of the rules,” Draper said. “And making sure to know who’s supposed to go.”

While a few coronavirus-related restrictions were in place – one, mask-wearing person in the pro shop at a time and flags are to remain in the hole even while putting – overall, playing did not feel much different. Participants were allowed to golf sans mask and use golf carts if they desired. With tee times separated by 10-minute intervals, the groups were fairly spaced out and there wasn’t too much traffic on the course.

This was Blevins’s first event of the year as well.

“It’s definitely tough [not having a golf season], we were supposed to have a really good team (at JCC), a really good team,” Blevins said.

But Blevins said he’s been golfing every single day at the Adams Country Club.

“(The restrictions) are not too bad, the biggest difference is just leaving the pins in really, but that really doesn’t affect much,” Blevins said. “It’s not too much different; you really try to execute the same way.”

The first group to go at 9 a.m. was made up of George LaBarr, Joe Tufo, Conner Gray and Mike Bamann. For Tufo, the Amateur Golf Championship was his first tournament of the season. In two weeks he’ll be participating in the Watertown Men’s City Golf Championship held at the Watertown Golf Club.

“This is a good warm-up,” Tufo said of the Amateur Golf Tournament. “You just want to put a score in and you’re done. Just go out there and play.”

Conner Gray, who finished one under, started slow but battled back, adjusting his approach after the second hole.

“I was battling back from starting four over on the first seven holes,” Gray said. “I battled back and I think the course was playing pretty nice today.”

For LaBarr, this is his second tournament of the year, he participated in the Apogee Investment Management Championship in Baldwinsville at the beginning June.

On Saturday, LaBarr started of slowly, finishing with six bogeys in his first 12 holes to go six over, but finished three-under on his final six holes. Last year, LaBarr made it to the semifinals of the Watertown Men’s City Golf tournament and is looking to repeat that performance.

“Last year was a good run, Ives (Hill) plays to my advantage, I drive the ball a long way. But being a member at the park the last three or four years, and with the conditions the way they are now, I feel like I can make a lot of birdies,” LaBarr said. “I mean, if you want to put it out there, I feel like I’m the guy to beat.”

The Amateur Golf Championship finishes up today, again with the first group teeing off at 9 a.m.

Nick Spicer lines up his putt on the ninth hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship on Saturday in Watertown. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Joe Tufo lines up a long putt at the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship on Saturday at Willowbrook Golf Club. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Ryan Blevins watches his ball fly on the ninth hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship on Saturday at Willowbrook Golf Club. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

James Ambrose lines up his shot on the third hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship on Saturday at Willowbrook Golf Club. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Kary Wilcox follows through on her shot at the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship on Saturday at Willowbrook Golf Club in Watertown. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Jonathan Babcock crouches as he prepares to putt on the ninth hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship on Saturday at Willowbrook Golf Club. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Conner Gray prepares his shot at the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship at Willowbrook Golf Club in Watertown. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Carmen Cring watches her ball roll toward the hole on the 11th hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship at Willowbrook Golf Club. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Jillian Draper watches her ball on the 11th hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship at Willowbrook Golf Club in Watertown. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

David Linstruth follows through on his putt on the ninth hole of the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship at Willowbrook Golf Club. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Chris Denesha practices his swing at the Jefferson County Amateur Golf Championship at Willowbrook Golf Club in Watertown. Philip Sanzo/Watertown Daily Times

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Sports Writer

Beat writer for Section 3 high school football, Frontier League boys and girls basketball, Frontier League baseball and Frontier League softball.

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