When the American Junior Golf Association returned to Otter Creek in 2013, Braden Thornberry won the boys’ division. Then the Olivier, Mississippi native defended his title in 2014.
Four years later, Thornberry was playing at the US Open.
Part of the future of golf is the boys and girls who will compete in the Circle K Junior Championship hosted by Otter Creek next week. Some can play for the pros. The vast majority will play at the college level.
“I remember when I first started playing golf, and the goal was to make it to an AJGA tournament,” said Lauren Hartlage, two-time women’s champion at Otter Creek. “This is where most college coaches were looking to recruit. A lot of AJGA players went to major Division I colleges.”
Hartlage, a native of Elizabethtown, Ky., Played five years in Louisville. She plans to go to Q-school for the LPGA and Symetra tours in late August.
Five times in the top 10 in AJGA events, Hartlage has achieved just two AJGA victories at Otter Creek in 2014 and 2015.
“They still have really good fields so it’s really important to win them,” said Hartlage. “When I won the first time I played well, and the next year I was lucky enough to win again. The kind of pressure to be able to win a tournament and play against more players. elite certainly helped me (in college). “
Drew Doyle finished in the top 10 in 13 AJGA events. The Louisville native has just completed his freshman year at LSU.
He, too, believes the AJGA tournaments he participated in growing up helped him prepare for the college game.
“The players I’ve played with in these tournaments, they all play college golf and they’re my competition,” Doyle said. “Playing against them has helped me prepare for college golf because most college players have played in AGJA. Seeing all of the college golf competition before setting foot on campus is perfect.”
Like Hartlage, Doyle had two AJGA victories and both came to Otter Creek. He won the last two events in 2019 and 2020 to join Thornberry, who played Ole Miss and currently competes in the Korn Ferry Tour, and Hartlage as a two-time winner in Columbus.
“It was awesome,” Doyle said. “It is one of my favorite courses. It adapts perfectly to my game. I was able to stay at home. I felt very comfortable in this event.”
For Annabelle Pancake, winning at Otter Creek had a special meaning. His father Tony Pancake, the longtime Crooked Stick pro in Carmel, worked in Otter Creek when he was younger.
Annabelle won the girls’ division in 2019.
“It was really cool,” she said. “If there was an AJGA up for grabs, I wanted it to be this one. The pro at the time, Jon Hoover, was my swing trainer, and my dad worked there when he was young.”
Annabelle, a Zionsville graduate who just completed her freshman year at Clemson, has finished nine times in the career top 10 in AJGA events.
“I loved these tournaments mainly because they are really competitive,” said Pancake. “The classes they play us are always top notch, of such good quality, and the staff treat us like we are professionals. It’s so organized and so well done.”
For the second year in a row, the field size at Otter Creek will be reduced due to COVID concerns and protocols. A total of 78 golfers will play between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday in the 54-hole event.
Two local golfers will compete. Luke Schneider, who just finished his junior year at Columbus North, qualified with enough AJGA stars. Tyler Wilks, who just finished his second year at North, got one of the four godfather exemptions.