WELDON SPRING — Zach Shirley went from dejected to exhilarated in short order on Tuesday afternoon.
The recent Lutheran South graduate lost a memorable three-hole playoff against Marquette senior-to-be Jack Cronin in the final round of the Gateway Junior PGA 2-Day Tournament at Persimmon Woods Golf Club.
Shirley and Cronin entered the tournament tied in the, “Race to the Junior PGA Championship,” standings with the Gateway Junior PGA’s second and final berth to the Junior PGA Boys Championship on July 30-Aug. 2. in Hartford, Connecticut at stake.
The winner would join Marquette's Tyler Linenbroker, who won the first automatic qualifying spot three weeks ago at Annbriar Golf Course.
But about 20 minutes after the exciting finish on the course, it was determined Cronin had signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified, making Shirley the winner of the tournament and the second championship berth.
“I was actually surprised because I already got the (second-place) plaque and stuff like that, so I was ready to get home because I had a grind out there,” said Shirley, who is close to deciding where he will play college golf next season. “Somebody came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, that score is wrong.’ I looked into it a little more. And it all got handled well, but it was just pretty unfortunate. I like playing with him a lot. I feel really bad that he got disqualified.”
Cronin said he will use it as a learning experience moving forward.
"That's never happened to me before," he said. "It was just an honest mistake."
Nolan Toovey, director of junior golf for the Gateway PGA, said it was unfortunate to have it all come down to a rules decision.
“The official way it works is the kids have to sign for their scores. They’re not responsible for math, but they’re responsible for hole-by-hole. A lower score was signed for, and ultimately that’s a disqualification,” Toovey said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t found out until after a playoff, which kind of stinks. The three (playoff) holes that we had were great. It was cool golf to watch when it was going on.”
The end result overshadowed what had been a fascinating duel between Cronin and Shirley, who both carded a 4-over-par 146 in regulation. Shirley entered the final round tied with Chaminade junior-to-be Jack Guyot, one shot ahead of Cronin.
Shirley and Cronin each parred the first two playoff holes — Nos. 18 and 1 — before Cronin got a par and Shirley a bogey on No. 2.
“It’s just like playing normal rounds,” Cronin said. “If you feel pressure, you’re going to lose. You just have to go out there and have fun.”
This will mark Shirley’s third straight appearance in the Junior PGA Championship.
Two years ago, he played close to home at The Country Club of St. Albans before traveling to Louisville last summer to play at Valhalla Golf Club.
“My first time doing it, the nerves really got to me,” Shirley said. “I walk onto the first practice tee and then I see Eugene (Hong) sitting next to me. He was the No. 1 amateur in the world at the time. And then I look to my left and it was (eventual champion) Akshay Bhatia. These were the guys you see on the USGA all the time. So, of course, I didn’t do well in that tournament. I missed the cut, but not by many.
“And then the next year at Valhalla, it was a really crazy course because of all the history. Unfortunately, I hurt my back that second day and I had to withdraw. It’s an unbelievable tournament and I’m really excited to be going again.”
Parker Perry, who will be a senior at MICDS, finished at 13-over-par to win the Tour Girls title at Persimmon Woods.
“The first day, more putts were falling in, so I had a lower score. Today, the putts just weren’t falling. The greens were a little slower from the rain. I’m definitely going to go home after this and hit some putts,” Perry said. “But, I had four birdies and that’s like the second-most amount of birdies that I’ve had. I feel like I’m in a good spot (heading into the fall high school season).”