Winning is starting to become a habit for Smith Knaffle of Murrells Inlet.
The 14-year-old freshman at St. James High won her first significant junior golf title in December at the Charles Tilghman Junior Championship, and backed it up Saturday with a six-stroke win in the girls division of the 13th annual Myrtle Beach National Junior Shootout at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club.
Knaffle shot rounds of 69 and 70 on the SouthCreek and West courses for a 5-under-par 139 total. Emily Cox of Lancaster and Jensen Castle of West Columbia shared second place at 145.
“The Tilghman was kind of the start and ever since then I’ve been playing some pretty solid golf,” Knaffle said. “I’ve been working hard on my swing and my game so it’s good that it’s finally showing off.”
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William Mirams, a 14-year-old from Stroudsburg, Pa., won the boys division with a 2-under 142 total that was a stroke better than both Matthew Griego of North Myrtle Beach and Tyler Koch of Swan Point, Md, who were both competing in the older boys 16-18 age group.
Knaffle played bogey-free Saturday for perhaps the first time ever in an 18-hole tournament round, making a birdie on both the front and back nines for the 2-under 70.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that before,” Knaffle said, “so that was real cool. I’m making birdies and minimizing mistakes.”
She said she wasn’t focused on remaining bogey free or maintaining her lead over the final few holes. “I was just trying not to think about it and keep playing,” Knaffle said. “If you start thinking about it, it will get in your head and it could go downhill from there.
“. . . Just remember that I’m playing good golf and stay confident and keep going. Just make some putts here or there and not really worry about the fact of winning, worry about hitting the shots and shooting the score and in the end it will all work out.”
A recent swing adjustment over the past few weeks has given Knaffle an extra 10 to 15 yards off the tee and up to 7 yards on iron shots. “That’s a huge help. Distance is so key nowadays with golf,” she said. “Now I’m going from 8-irons to sometimes wedges [on approach shots]. And putting and chipping have been good – just overall pretty solid.”
She had a winning record in the Can-Am Junior Team Matches last weekend at Wachesaw Plantation Club, keeping her game sharp for the Myrtle Beach National tournament.
Knaffle’s father Jim, the superintendent at the International Club of Myrtle Beach, caddied for her at Myrtle Beach National, as he had at the Tilghman Junior at the Surf Golf and Beach Club.
“It’s nice having him on it,” Knaffle said, “but it could be a coincidence.”
Knaffle doesn’t have another tournament scheduled until the Vicki DiSantis Girls’ Championship at Pine Island Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., in early May.
Mirams, a freshman at Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in East Stroudsburg, Pa., shot a pair of 71s despite playing his first rounds of the year with little practice because of the weather at his home.
He made seven birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey in 36 holes.
“I was a little surprised, especially [Friday]. I played two practice rounds and I got to hit some range balls and put some serious time into chipping and putting,” Mirams said. “At the end of last year I was doing pretty well so hopefully it just gets better from here.”
Mirams has played in the tournament three consecutive years. He won his age group in 2015 and finished second in his age group last year.
“Two years ago my friend told me about it, and ever since I’ve liked these courses and it has become a tradition.”
Griego, a 16-year-old sophomore at North Myrtle Beach, was awarded the Boys 16-18 title over Koch based on a scorecard playoff after shooting a 2-under 70 Saturday.
“I played solid and played just the way I wanted to,” Griego said. “This is a big breakthrough for me. Recently I’ve been shooting 78, 79, 77, right in the mid-70s, now to breakthrough feels quite nice, actually. I’ve been grinding so hard and working so hard, so to finally see some good results feels good.”
Griego has been working with instructor Stuart Clark of the Steve Dresser Golf Academy at True Blue Golf Club.
“I’ve been hitting it well in practice and it’s been hard to transfer the good range play over onto the course,” Griego said. “To see it finally happen is real special.”
Waccamaw High set an 18-hole school record with an 8-under-par 280 Saturday in the final round of the 19th annual Palmetto High School Golf Championship at True Blue Golf Club, but it wasn’t enough to catch Bellarmine College Prep of San Jose, Calif.
Bellarmine shot a 10-under 278 for a 16-under 552 total to cruise to a 22-stroke win over the Warriors in the 31-team tournament.
The tournament featured teams from the Carolinas, California, Louisiana, Maryland and Texas.
Eddy Lai of Bellarmine, who is ranked in the top 50 in the country in the Junior Golf Scoreboard Rankings, shot a 67 Saturday to overtake teammate Boots Del Biaggio by one stroke with a 9-under 133 to set a tournament record.
Waccamaw’s Patrick Golden equaled Lai for the low round of the day with a 67 following his 2-under 68 Friday at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and finished in third, two shots off the pace at 7-under 135.
Golden said he missed just five fairways off the tee over 36 holes. He reached 6 under for his round Saturday with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole but bogeyed the 18th.
“I had it going for a little bit,” Golden said. “I still didn’t make the putts I needed to make. I counted seven or eight putts I missed inside 10 feet. If I make half of those I win the tournament. There are some positives to take out of it. The big positive is how well I hit the ball to give myself those looks.”
Trey Salley shot a pair of 72s for the Warriors to tie for 11th individually, Jackson Cole tied for 21st with a 77-70–147, Will Canipe tied for 23rd at 77-71–148, and Chris Kaylor shot a pair of 77s to tie for 43rd in the championship flight.
“We all have the ability to go low, though usually it’s not at the same time,” Golden said. “Today we played the way we expect to play, and all of us still left a few shots out there today.”
True Blue will host the Class AA state championship in May. “I know if we play the way we did today in May at state, we’ll definitely win state,” Golden said.
Myrtle Beach National Junior Shootout
1. Smith Knaffle, Murrells Inlet 69-70–139
2. Emily Cox, Lancaster 77-68–145
3. Jensen Castle, West Columbia 76-69–145
4. Hailey Freedman, Chapel Hill, NC 74-72–146
5. Amy Wooten, Clinton, NC 72-78–150
9. Mary Kate Richardson, Galivants Ferry 84-78–162
10. Katie Smith, Murrells Inlet 82-81–163
T11. Jordan White, Myrtle Beach 85-80–165
T11. Kelli Smith, Murrells Inlet 83-82–165
13. Samantha Spencer, Conway 87-79–166
17. Kendall Lewis, Conway 95-96–191
18. Rachel Wilkinson, Galivants Ferry 106-92–198
1. William Mirams, Stroudsburg, Pa. 71-71–142
T2. Matthew Griego, North Myrtle Beach 73-70–143
T2. Tyler Koch, Swan Point, Md. 71-72–143
T4. Attie Giles, Pinehurst, NC 70-74–144
T4. Logan McNeely, Conover, NC 74-70–144
T6. Kevin Burris, Conway 73-73–146
T6. Holden Grigg, Myrtle Beach 73-73–146
11. Jake Dupuis, Longs 79-70–149
T12. McClure Thompson, Little River 79-72–151
T14. Seth Boyce, Myrtle Beach 77-77–154
T16. Tanner Smith, Myrtle Beach 77-78–155
T16. Wesley Fisher, Myrtle Beach 76-79–155
1. Bellarmine Prep (Calif.) 274-278 – 552
2. Waccamaw 294-280 – 574
3. Myers Park (N.C.) 282-300 – 582
4. East Rowan (N.C.) 286-302 – 588
1. Eddy Lai, Bellarmine 66-67 – 133
2. Boots Del Biaggio, Bellarmine 64-70 – 134
3. Patrick Golden, Waccamaw 68-67 – 135
4. Nick Lyerly, East Rowan 67-71 – 138
T5. Joey Funderburg, Wilmington Chr. 69-71 – 140
T5. Quade Lukes, Durham Acad. 67-73 – 140
5. Charlotte Christian (N.C.) 301-293 – 594