On par with countless events around the state and world, canceling the 2020 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship didn’t necessarily come as a shock to area golfers.
“We are devastated that it had to be canceled, but I think everybody kind of understood that it was going to be,” said Eric Rule, general manager at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Regardless, for organizers and players, the announcement was a tough blow.
“I’m bummed because I really wanted to have a chance at playing at my home golf course for this tournament,” said Davis Johnson, 17, a likely qualifier.
Hazeltine was slated to host the July event in conjunction with Chaska Town Course. A series of qualifying tournaments narrows the player pool down to around 250 for the multi-day championships.
Gregory Sanfilippo is the director of U.S. Junior and Senior Amateur Championships with the United States Golf Association. He said the USGA followed local, state and national COVID-19 guidelines in making the decision.
The 73rd annual event would have brought over 1,500 people to Chaska, he said.
“The overall decision and primary focus was just the wellbeing of everybody involved. That extends beyond just the players themselves,” Sanfilippo said.
Rule said he understands the call, especially considering the nature of the sport.
“Certainly it's one of those events where the spectators can get up close and personal with the contestants,” Rule said.
The USGA considered postponing the championships, but Sanfilippo said it wouldn’t make sense. The players are school-aged so a postponal wouldn’t be viable, he said.
“(It would) put players in a spot to question whether to go to school or compete in a golf event,” Sanfilippo said.
Rule, with Hazeltine, agreed, noting the importance of age. Boys and men 18 and under are allowed to compete.
“We would have liked to see it rescheduled, but unfortunately with high school and college-aged kids you really only have a couple month window to be able to reschedule,” he said.
NOT JUST ANY OTHER GAME
Hazeltine and Chaska Town Course started prepping for this championship a couple of years ago.
“The player experience, honestly, for what they were planning could have been just outstanding,” Sanfilippo said.
This year, organizers expanded the course size to add over 100 competitors from last year. It’s a move USGA hoped would “add strength to the field” and let more players qualify in sectionals.
“It could have been an unprecedented story,” Rule said.
Both courses already organized volunteers and emergency plans. Uniforms were ordered. Agendas were in place. Food was arranged.
Already-purchased cereal bars and other items will be donated to Chaska police, fire, and the Two Twelve Medical Center, Rule said.
“We were fully ready to go with the event,” said John Kellin, head golf professional at Chaska Town Course. “It’s really sad. I feel bad for all these kids. There was just a really good, solid plan in place to have a wonderful event.”
‘I’M JUST BUMMED’
Take it from players themselves: no championships means no competition. And at their home course, the news hit even harder for local golfers.
Though too soon to set a player roster, Davis Johnson anticipated qualifying. The Chaska High School junior said by early June, he would have known whether or not the big championship awaited him.
“I’ve been playing forever,” Davis said. “Probably, I mean, I had one of those plastic golf sets ever since I could walk.”
He and his brother, Lincoln, live on Chaska Town Course. It’s the greens they’ve known and loved for years.
Lincoln qualified for the previous two U.S. Junior Amateur Championships, getting medalist honors in 2017. At 20, he doesn’t qualify for the junior amateurs anymore, but feels for younger competitors like his brother who do — rather, did.
“I would be pretty upset just because I’ve grown up playing at the Chaska Town Course and Hazeltine my whole life,” the University of Minnesota sophomore golfer said. “I’d feel like an opportunity would be missed.”
Both Johnson brothers’ school seasons were cut. Both want to eventually go pro. So though the two can still play golf, they’ll miss the competitive nature.
Davis is hoping for another shot next year, but the championships won’t be so close to home.
“I’m just bummed. But at least I have another shot next year, but it won’t be at Hazeltine,” Davis said.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s one of those things that as long as it's happening to everybody, everyone’s got to get through it,” Lincoln said.
Organizers at the two courses and the USGA said most people have been understanding in these unprecedented times.
Next year’s championship is slated for a country club in North Carolina, Sanfilippo said, but wants to see Minnesota back in the game soon.
“Hopefully we do get to bring the Junior Amateur back to Hazeltine and Chaska.”