July 25, 2016

Partly cloudy

Guthrie finds comfort miles away from home

WESTFIELD CENTER — It is a nine and one-half hour car ride from Luke Guthrie’s hometown of Quincy, Ill., to the Westfield Junior PGA Championship.

No big deal.

Guthrie has traveled the route so many times he knows every turn along the way.

Guthrie is one of the most experienced players in the 156-member field of the 32nd annual event, having played the Westfield Group Country Club South Course in tournament action on four different occasions.

Guthrie’s first trip to “The Westfield” was in 2004 as a member of the Junior Ryder Cup team. He’s also competed in the Westfield Junior PGA the last two campaigns, finishing sixth in 2005.

Now, the 17-year-old is back for his fourth dance on the course that has helped mold junior stars into professionals and hopes to take an impressive trophy back to the banks of the Mississippi River.

“When I come back, I feel really comfortable,” Guthrie said. “It’s really awesome. They make you feel like kings.”

And if Guthrie can find his way to the top of the final championship standings, he’ll be the head of the royal court consisting of the best junior players in the United States.

Finishing third last weekend at the high-profile Rolex Tournament of Championships, Guthrie is playing at an elite level. He is all about improvement, however, and wasn’t totally satisfied with his even-par 71 Wednesday.

“I’ve got to improve my ball striking. It was not good at all today,” said Guthrie, who won the Rand Graphics-Wildcat Golf Wichita Junior Championship last month. “I’m struggling a little bit with my long game. The first nine holes I didn’t have a birdie putt inside 10 feet. I got to do a little better tomorrow.”

Guthrie, 17th in the Polo Golf rankings, had to deal with another obstacle: rain showers.

The start of the first round was delayed 1½ hours by the wet stuff and Guthrie, along with playing partners Mark Thompson and Josh Dupont, was the first scheduled tee time at 7:30 a.m.

Sitting around for the duration of the delay, Guthrie’s momentum was deflated because he had already warmed up.

“When I came out I was not ready,” Guthrie said. “You’ve got to go at these holes, especially since the front nine is easier. Hopefully (today) I can come out a little stronger.”

Along with a solid short game, what Guthrie had going for him was a pair of familiar faces at his side. Dupont was a teammate of Guthrie’s on the 2004 Junior Ryder Cup squad and Thompson played with Guthrie just last week at the Rolex.

“It’s just fun,” Guthrie said. “I knew Mark as well. … I had a good pairing.”

Guthrie still is easily within striking distance of the top of the scoreboard as he trails leader Chris DeForest by six shots. Guthrie believes 12-under will be good enough for the title, and he’s not about to dwindle away.

Placing in the top three in a pair of prestigious junior tournaments will help the psyche, too.

“This tournament and the Rolex are on the same level,” Guthrie said. “Actually, this tournament might a little higher. You can’t go wrong with either of them.”

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.