Spencer Ralston has a way of persevering through the ups and downs that come with a long day on the golf course.
Playing 36 holes at 1-over par in the US Junior Amateur qualifier on Monday, the rising Gainesville High sophomore minimized damage to his scorecard from wayward shots off the tee and less-than-perfect approach shots with great greens play to capture the win at the University of Georgia Course in Athens.
“I was putting and chipping out of my mind,” Ralston said about his marathon day of golf.
Ralston, who had five birdies over the course of the day, finished Monday’s highly-anticipated qualifier in a three-way tie for first at 143 and earned one of the four automatic qualifier spots to the US Junior Amateur Championship on July 22-27 in Truckee, Calif. He was deemed winner over the other two in first place by way of a coin flip.
Gainesville golf coach Bryson Worley said that his 15-year old golfer is quickly joining elite company among the summer circuit and the crop that produce the future professionals.
“The Junior Amateur is basically a junior major,” Worley said.
Ralston, who won last summer on the American Junior Golf Tour, finished his first round with a double bogey on No. 18, but went into the clubhouse for a short break between rounds at 1-over par (72) and right where he needed to be in fourth place.
Unlike most of the field, the young Red Elephant sensation shot a lower score in the second round (71).
Worley said it was a tremendous accomplishment on Ralston’s part to be able to stay focused against such a talented field by pairing together two great rounds of golf.
“To have the best juniors out there and no one go under par for the day is pretty telling (of the course),” Worley said.
Ralston had to overcome some near costly mistakes to take first place and earn one of the approximately 150 slots to play at the California course — tucked high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and at about 6,200 feet in elevation — with a chance at the US Junior Amateur title.
Two of his biggest saves were on No. 16 and 17 to finish the day. On the 16th, a par 3, his tee shot barely cleared the water. Even with an awkward lie on the fringe of the water hazard, Ralston managed to get up and down for par.
Then on No. 17, he rebounded from a snap hook shot off the tee into the woods. His second shot cleared the trees, leaving just 150 yards to the flag on his third shot. After going over the green on his approach by about 10 yards, he still managed to chip close and putt in for par.
Ralston said putting was continually his saving grace, including back-to-back successful putts for par at No. 8 and 9 from about 10 feet both times.
“Spencer really handles himself well emotionally on the course,” Worley said. “When adversity hits, he doesn’t freak out about it.”
Worley said that playing golf in a high-altitude course will be a challenge for Ralston. While the course plays longer than most, the thin air will allow the ball to travel further. According to Worley, Ralston plans to play a few practice rounds to get ready for the event when he arrives in California.