Marcelo Garza is only 15 years old but he played with the nerve of a much older golfer when it counted the most in Wednesday’s final round of the Starburst Junior Golf Classic.
After shooting a double bogey on the final hole of regulation, Garza had to quickly collect himself for a playoff against Zachary Slayton.
Hitting a stunning second shot behind a tree to the green, Garza birdied the first playoff hole to win the boys championship division at Cottonwood Creek.
“I just had to leave it behind because it was a playoff hole,” Garza said. “It was like a new day. I was behind a tree and I said a four-iron may not get it there. But I got it to the green. It’s very special to win a tournament this big.”
Garza, who is from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, missed his putt for an eagle but nailed the birdie from point blank range on the par-5 playoff hole.
After firing his third shot from behind a bunker to the green, Slayton had a chance to force a second playoff hole put couldn’t nail the putt for a birdie.
“Marcelo hit a great shot on his second shot, so it put a little pressure on me,” said Slayton, a 17-year-old from Austin. “I hit a pretty good shot, 50 yards over the bunker. I had about six feet for a birdie and was just a little nervous.”
Slayton was four strokes behind Garza at the start of the third round but shot a one-over-par 73 to force the playoff. Both Slayton and Garza shot seven-over-par 221 for the tournament, which included the first round at Ridgewood Country Club and the second round at Stonetree Golf Club in Killeen.
“I was struggling off the bat today,” Slayton said. “I was three over after five holes and birdied 10, 11 and 13, and ended up getting a birdie to get in the playoff. I won (the 16-year-old division) last year, so it was a little disappointing taking second.”
Pierson Farnell of Burleson, Cade Allison of Robinson and Kasey Middleton of Comanche all shot 226. But Farnell took third by winning a scorecard playoff while Allison placed fourth and Middleton fifth. About 400 golfers played in the tournament.
“Obviously it’s not where I want to be,” said Allison of his fourth-place finish. “There’s always room for improvement. But it’s good to come out here and play well and finish fourth. I think it really brings out the competition in people. I always want to bring back something for Waco.”
In the girls championship division, Danielle Talley of Houston shot two-over-par 74 in the final round at Cottonwood Creek to finish at 17-over-par 233 to win by two strokes.
Faith Delagarza of Midland came into the final round with a one-stroke lead over Talley but shot five-over-par 77 to finish at 235.
“I knew I had to kick it into gear,” Talley said. “I had to play my hardest and I tried. Yesterday I struck the ball really well and I had a better mindset than the first day. Today I played pretty good. I think my approach shots were pretty good and my drives.”
Ellee Fox, who will be a sophomore at Copperas Cove High School in the fall, finished third at 236 after shooting five-over-par 77 in the final round. The first round was played Monday at Wildflower Country Club in Temple while the second round was at Ridgewood.
“It’s fun getting to compete in the championship division even when I’m 15,” said Fox, who has already verbally committed to Mississippi State. “These players are really good and I think it’s boosting my confidence. They help me reach my goals and I get to play around the world, so it’s pretty fun to travel.”
An added bonus to the golf was all the candy sitting out in the clubhouses, courtesy of the Mars Wrigley Confectionery plant in Waco.
“The candy and the courses, they’re really nice,” Talley said.