By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Austin Sparks wasn’t a golfer four years ago.
Tuesday, the 17-year-old Red Bay, Ala., resident won the boys age 16-18 division title in the North Mississippi Coca-Cola Junior Golf Tour Championship at the Ole Miss Golf Course by five strokes with a two-day total of 14-over-par 76-82-158.
“I didn’t start playing golf until I was 14,” said Sparks, who will be a senior at Red Bay High School this fall. “Being able to play on the Coca-Cola Tour has helped me a lot.”
One thing Sparks has learned about the game in his brief career is patience.
He bogeyed his first hole of the final round, then followed it up with a triple bogey and three more bogeys. He regained his composure in the punishing heat to par 10 of his last 13 holes.
“My uncle kept texting me,” Sparks said. “He kept telling me to ‘Get it together.’ I finally did get it together.”
Sparks’ victory was his third on nine-event Tour this summer.
The top players in the Tour’s points standings qualified for the championship.
Isaac Gerhart, 14, of Millport, Ala., overcame a hand injury this summer to play his best golf at the end of the Tour.
He won last week’s Pontotoc stop and followed it up with a age 14-15 division title in the championship, shooting a tournament-best 77-78-155. He defeated Amory’s Will Thompson – 76-79-155 – on a scorecard playoff.
“I felt pretty good about my play coming into this week,” Gerhart said. “It was pretty hot out there today. It was like an oven.”
Tupelo’s Parker Brooks won the boys 12-13 division title by four strokes with a score of 84-81-165.
Booneville’s Austin Lauderdale won the boys 10-11 division title by a stroke with a two-day score of 41-43-84.
Olive Branch’s Hailee Kokos won the girls division with a 102-92-194.