Isaly’s summer-time tour big hit with junior golfers
From chipped-ham sandwiches to sand-wedge chips, the Isaly’s Junior Golf Tour has carved its niche on the Western Pennsylvania junior golf scene by attracting top talent and playing at some of area’s most prestigious courses.
“When I took the job in January 2018, I looked at the venues — and they are all good, don’t get me wrong — but I wanted to give the kids the opportunity to go to Shannopin and Latrobe and getting the kids to play out there,” Tri-State PGA player development coordinator Bob Gillespie said. “Really, what we saw was that some of the better players started coming back.”
The 17-stop tour — formerly known as the Kings Tour — began in early June at Willowbrook Country Club in Apollo. The tour made stops at such gems as Hannastown Golf Club and Tam O’Shanter Golf Club in Hermitage, and will finish up July 29 at Valleybrook Country Club in McMurray.
The top 10 golfers in three boys age categories and both girls age groups, in addition to each tourney winner, will advance to the 2019 Player of the Year Championships on July 31 at Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands.
“There’s a lot of good competition,” Leechburg rising junior Cole Villa said. “Pretty much every tournament, there’s guys (shooting) in the mid-70s, 70 and even in high 60s in some of them. The golf courses we play are really nice, and it’s a really good opportunity.”
Leechburg’s No. 1 golfer since he arrived as a freshman, Villa is using the Isaly’s tour as a way to clean up his game, and like every golfer, be more consistent. This year marks Villa’s fourth on the tour.
“I’m just trying to put it all together,” Villa said. “Once you get everything together, that’s when you start getting more consistency and lower scores.”
Villa survived a triple bogey on the front nine and a double bogey on the back nine to finish tied for second at Latrobe Country Club in early June. Villa ranks third (172.50) in points behind Moon’s Justin Scally (202.50) and leader Alex Turowski (207.50) of Penn-Trafford.
“I’m trying to do a lot more tourneys than last year because I struggled last year in tournaments,” said Scally, a rising junior who finished last season as Moon’s top golfer. “I grew a lot since last year, and I’ve tried to adjust the whole year and I’ve been working hard on that. My whole swing has changed.”
Scally, whose family owns Scally’s Golf and Training Center in Moon, is in his fifth year on the tour. He pulled out a win at Tam O’Shanter in late June and tied for second at Hickory Heights on July 9. Scally has five top-five finishes in the seven tourneys he has entered this season.
“The competition is really good and that’s why I’ve stayed in these tournaments because there’s not a blowout every time,” Scally said. “There’s always a variety of winners. It’s not always the same people winning every tourney.”
For most golfers, the Isaly’s tour acts as a preseason warmup and an opportunity to tweak their games before for high-school tryouts in mid-August. Fox Chapel’s Brevin Urso, a rising senior who has been on the tour since eighth grade, is using the summer to break in his new irons.
“At the beginning of the season, I got the TaylorMade P790s. I love them,” Urso said. “I got fitted for them at Fox Chapel Golf Club, and I’m hitting them really well.”
Urso ranks 16th in the 17-18 age group. He has two top-five finishes, including third Latrobe on July 1, and sits 22.5 points out of 10th place.
“I’d say that I’m playing some pretty good golf right now,” Urso said. “I could definitely shave a few strokes off of each round but consistently I’ve been playing really well.”
Recent Mt. Pleasant graduate Sam Napper is using the Isaly’s tour to prepare for college competition. Napper will try to earn a starting spot at Westminster this fall.
“My goal this summer was pretty much to play as many tourneys as possible,” said Napper, who picked up golf the summer after his sophomore year. “That’s why I did the Isaly’s (tour), because there’s so many of them. I don’t want to go into the college season with tourneys being foreign for me.”
Napper sits third in the 17-18 age group. He has four top-five finishes, including two second-place finishes, in his five events this summer.
Every golfer has their own reasons for playing the tour, but Gillespie is making it harder and harder for local talent to ignore it.
“When we brought in some of the better facilities on the tour, it really started us on the upward tick again,” Gillespie said. “Every facility I have spoken to, they have been more than willing and that’s exciting to see that. They say remember us for next year, which is really important with all of the player development.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.