CARY — Austin Inman hit the biggest golf shot of his young life at exactly the right time Friday at Prestonwood Country Club.
Sitting 40 yards out and behind a bunker after recovering from a bad tee shot on No. 14 of the Highlands course, Inman and his small gallery from Leland let out a big yell when he chipped the ball into the cup for a two-hole lead.
And two holes later he birdied again for the clincher, completing a 3 and 2 victory over Charlotte’s Keegan Hoff to win the 46th N.C. Junior Boys’ Championship and the rotating Harry Lee Welch Trophy.
Earlier in the day the duo had squelched Triangle hopes for a championship, as Hoff beat East Chapel Hill standout Ben Griffin 2-up and Inman topped Broughton’s Stephen Saleeby 4 and 2.
“This is by far my biggest win,” said Inman, a 17-year-old rising senior at Wilmington Christian who is committed to Coastal Carolina. “And that’s definitely one of the biggest shots I’ve ever hit. I blocked my tee shot in the woods – well, kind of in the pine straw – and then I hit 30 yards short of the green. I chipped over a bunker, hit it pretty high and it just rolled on in. That was pretty exciting.”
The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder, who plays center on the Patriots’ basketball team, said that putting is really his strong suit and “really saved him” over the week-long event. Both his father Kenny – who said he was texting Austin’s mother Jennifer after each hole – and grandpa Bob Thomas were on hand for the victory.
To win he had to deny Hoff’s chance to become the third champion from Charlotte in the last 20 years. Hoff was the medalist in qualifying, winning by three strokes with a sizzling 65.
“It was a good week,” said Hoff, a graduate of Charlotte Catholic who’s headed for the University of Richmond. “This morning I played good, but this afternoon was a little bit of a struggle. It’s a bit of an endurance test. We both walked and carried, and I prefer that. I prefer that – it’s just one opinion on some shots. I normally hit it pretty solid. I was just a little off in the afternoon. And Austin played a great round.”
Griffin, a rising senior who is committed to UNC, is the defending NCHSAA Class 4A champion and also won the title as a freshman. Saleeby, a rising junior, interrupted Griffin’s pair of 4A titles by winning in his own freshman year.
“I was a couple of putts away from being able to win my match today,” said Griffin, who is headed to play tournaments at Pinehurst, in Atlanta and twice in California this summer. “It was a pretty close match all along and he made a couple of putts at the end. I couldn’t get the putter rolling as well as I would have liked.
“On the 13th hole (Hoff) was on in two on a Par 5, and then he birdied the next hole and hit a 15-footer on the next one.”
Saleeby didn’t come quite as close and is looking for better days.
“I was not good,” said the Caps’ star, who tied for third in the state 4A this time. “That was not how I had to play to get a championship. I putted a lot better earlier. Today I wasn’t making anything and wasn’t striking balls the way I needed to. Austin played well. He played great golf and deserved to win.”
Migliaccio falls in finals: Emilia Migliaccio of Cary lost in the finals of the N.C. Junior Girls Championship to defending champion Lucia Polo of Greensboro, 5 and 3, in the match play event on Friday at the Bentwinds Country Club in Fuquay-Varina.
Polo built an early lead, taking a 5-up lead through the first eight holes. Migliaccio did not putt well in the match.
“I putted well all week. I’m not really sure what happened out there today,” Migliaccio said in a release. “I must have had about six putts lip out to keep myself in the match. It just wasn’t meant to be this week for me.”
Polo, who headed to the University of North Carolina, birdied No. 15 to close out the match.