MYRTLE BEACH — Since Wesley Day first played in the George Holliday Memorial Junior Tournament four years ago after his father found the event while searching the Internet, he set the goal to become the first foreign winner of the 45-year event.
In his final opportunity, the 17-year-old from Ajax, Ontario, outside Toronto, accomplished the feat.
Day outlasted 13-year-old Trent Phillips of Inman in a three-hole sudden-death playoff with the help of 30-foot par putt on the first playoff hole Saturday on Myrtle Beach National Golf Club’s West Course.
“The first year I came down they said they had never seen a Canadian, or in fact anyone outside the United States in this tournament,” Day said. “I’m really happy to be the first international player to win it.”
Day and Phillips tied at 1-under-par 215 after 54 holes, and Day won with a par on the third playoff hole after Phillips three-putted from 20 feet for a bogey.
Reona Hirai of Summerville repeated as the girls champion, shooting an even-par 72 Saturday to cruise to a six-shot win over Kelli Murphy of Elgin at 3-under 213.
Phillips was only eligible for the overall boys title because he asked to move up to the 14-15 age group so he could play the championship tees on Myrtle Beach National’s three courses. He shot rounds of 69 and 68 playing shorter tees last week in the South Carolina Junior Golf Association’s Players Championship in Hartsville.
“So I thought I was going to do pretty good,” Phillips said. “I thought the yardage was better for me. I didn’t want to play that short.”
Day nearly won on the final hole of regulation – a long par-3 on the West Course – though he was unaware Phillips shot a 2-under 70 on the Southcreek layout. Day only knew he had a one-shot lead in the 16-18 age group when his 60-foot birdie putt from off the green hit the back of the hole and popped up but stayed out.
“I had no intentions of making that putt,” Day said. “I just wanted to put it within a foot and just have a tap-in. So when I saw it was tracking I was really getting hopeful, and when it lipped out I was pretty upset.”
Things looked bleak for Day on the first playoff hole – the 501-yard par-5 first hole on the West Course – after he hit a tree with his second shot, found a greenside bunker with his third and had a 30-foot putt sliding to the left a foot or two for a par to continue the playoff. He drained it.
“I’m very confident with my putting,” said Day, who walked the ball into the hole. “I was a little nervous standing over the ball but I was able to become clutch and make it. As soon as I putted I was pretty sure it was in.”
Day took advantage of his new life. “My nerves had built up, and after I made the putt I was calm and OK,” Day said. “The climax of the nerves and the pressure ended on that hole.”
He managed to scramble for a par on the second playoff hole – the 360-yard second hole – with a low punch from trees to the left of the green and chip to 4 feet for par, then settled for par after missing a 10-foot birdie putt on the second playing of the first hole in the playoff, but it was good enough when Phillips three-putted.
“Those were the two best scramble pars I had today,” Day said. “That was not my game all day but it came at the right time.”
Day left a few inches of snow on the ground for the fourth annual 15-hour drive to Myrtle Beach, but the weather followed him down, as the tournament was played throughout a winter chill with high temperatures in the 40s Thursday and 50s the final two days, and it worked in his favor.
“Everyone said, ‘This must be summer to you,’ ” Day said. “It’s not. It’s still very cold. I was just lucky I brought all my warm clothes. I brought my mitts and my tuque.
“Although I was cold I was able to stay warmer than most people. I found [other players] were complaining a little more than I was. I guess I was used to it, though I didn’t really know. Practicing into the later days of October really helped.”
Jonathan Hardee of Greer was hoping to make some Holliday history of his own. The 17-year-old Alabama signee was trying to become the first player to win the Holliday three consecutive years, but he came up a shot shy of the playoff.
“Coming in I was excited about my chances,” Hardee said. “I’m not going to dwell on it, but it would have been pretty cool, I guess. … I didn’t really put any pressure on myself coming in as the defending champ. There was obviously some there, but I didn’t try to put any on there.”
Hardee didn’t play his best Saturday with a 1-over 73, but he didn’t go down without a fight.
He settled for a birdie on the par-5 17th hole to pull within a shot of the lead after his eagle putt lipped out, and rolled a 65-foot chip shot for birdie over the left edge of the cup on the 18th hole that would have qualified him for the playoff.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was good and it looked like it was going in,” Hardee said. “My last three holes my first shots from around the green or on the green lipped out.”
Hirai, 17, who has committed to Furman, competed in the Holliday for the seventh consecutive year. “This year we were actually thinking about not coming back, but I wanted to play in it because it’s like a tradition,” Hirai said.
She won six of the seven tournaments she entered this summer, including the Joe Cheves Junior Invitational in North Carolina, Beth Daniel Junior Azalea, The Blade and Jimmy Self events, but went winless in two tournaments this fall. “This is the best I’ve played in two months,” Hirai said.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.