LOCKPORT – Gehrig Hollatz will be in elite company when he tees off Monday morning at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course in The Woodlands, Texas.
That site in suburban Houston is host to this year’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championships, a six-day event which features many of the top junior golfers in the nation, as well at least 20 competitors from other countries.
A total of 156 athletes qualified from 60 different tournaments which ran throughout June and concluded on the first day of this month.
Lockport’s Hollatz earned his spot June 30 at Schaumburg Golf Club when he shot a 140 in the 36-hole, one-day event to earn the fourth and final qualifying spot.
He opened with a 34 but was tied for sixth with a 71 through the first 18 holes. After shooting a 37 over the next nine, he used four birdies to help him to a 32, which gave him a 69 for the final 18, and his 140 was one stroke better than the two alternates.
Three other players from Illinois qualified at Schaumburg and another won the title at a competition in Michigan. No more than five players from this state have moved on during the past four years.
The only player from the area who has advanced to the USGA’s Junior Amateur in recent years is Frankfort’s Brian Bullington, who made three straight trips from 2009 to 2011.
“It means a lot since there are only four other kids from the state of Illinois who qualified,” Hollatz said. “There were 90 kids at Schaumburg and I finished in the top four, which was really nice. I had to play 18 in the morning and 18 in the afternoon, but it was fun.
“I figured that if I played like I did in practice that I could get to the Junior Amateur. But I had to play my best golf, and that’s what I did and I ended up making it. That was one of the biggest things that I’ve ever been able to accomplish in the sport.
“I’ve golfed against some of the other guys who qualified and I had a lot of friends there who also tried to qualify. They were pretty happy for me and thought that it was cool that I made it. Only 156 make it to the Junior Amateur, so to do that is a big honor.”
Hollatz, who’ll be a senior at Lockport this year, hopes that he can make a good showing in the first two days of the tournament, which involves stroke play.
Once the field is cut down to 64 players, match play eventually determines the champion.
As evidenced by his play at Schaumburg, where he recorded 10 birdies compared to six bogeys, Hollatz feels that he might be able to fare well in match play if he can earn a spot in the final 64, something that Bullington accomplished in 2011.
He left for Texas on Friday and took part in practice rounds both Saturday and Sunday in preparation of his 8 a.m. tee time Monday and a 1:15 p.m. start on the next day.
“I feel that if I can get to the round of 64, I might do something since my game is set up for match play because I get a lot of birdies,” Hollatz said. “Right now I’m pretty excited. It will be a good experience and hopefully I’ll be able to play well there.
“Each day I’m out practicing and every part of my game is getting better. I want to play Division I college golf, so hopefully playing in the U.S. Junior Amateur will help me to get recognized. If golf doesn’t work out for me, at least it can help get me through college.”
Hollatz, whose father Mark, a fine golfer after successful baseball careers at both Providence and Lewis University, is a teacher and coach at Lemont.
On the other side of the family, his late grandfather, Dick Dystrup, was an athlete for the Porters and then a longtime teacher and coach, retiring from his alma mater.
Mom, Libby, and aunt, Andra, also enjoyed athletic success at Lockport, as did his uncle, Spiro Voulgaris. Gehrig’s sister, Hannah, was a former Porter athlete while sister, Halle, and cousins, Gabby and Zara Voulgaris, all were regulars on the 2014 softball team.
Hollatz, who also plays basketball for the Porters, is not only excited about competing in the Junior Amateur but also about how good Lockport’s golf team could be this season.
“Our golf team looks good and hopefully, we can finish in the top three at state,” said Hollatz, who was an individual state qualifier last year. “I’ll be playing along with Luke Trent and Matt Sheldon, and I think it will be a fun season.”
To track the U.S. Junior Amateur Championships, go to www.usga.org/champeventsite.aspx?id=17179869329.