Tuesday’s round at the 14th Annual A. Downing Gray Cup began more or less the same for Jack Wallace.
It’s been a common theme for the summer where he “just can’t get it together” on the front nine holes. On Tuesday at the Pensacola Country Club, Wallace started with three consecutive pars before hitting a double bogey and a bogey. After birdieing the sixth, seventh and ninth holes, he hit the turn at even par.
Then he got hot.
Wallace, a rising senior at Tate, shot four birdies on the back nine, taking advantage of holes 12 and 14, both of which are par-5’s. While he had a minor hiccup on 17, shooting a bogey, no one was going to stop Wallace from claiming the Junior Masters Boys Overall division with a final score three-under 69.
13th Annual A. Downing Gray Cup: Following disqualification, Gulf Breeze’s Mark Piver wins playoff for the title
Wallace finished the tournament with a two-day total of 142.
“Monday wasn’t, by all means, the greatest round of the year so far, but I just kept going into today. Today, I started pretty rough,” Wallace said. “I went to the back and started firing off like it was just another day.”
Wallace and Gulf Breeze’s Mark Piver were tied going into Tuesday’s round, both shooting a one-over 73. Piver had a pair of bogeys on the front nine, and after Wallace’s hot streak on the back, it created too much of a gap for Piver to overcome.
Piver was the 2022 A. Downing Gray Cup champion after a playoff. Piver and Wallace were brought back out to PCC a day after the tournament due to a disqualification. Luke Godwin initially won the tournament, but after signing an incorrect scorecard, he was disqualified.
Piver and Wallace went into a two-hole playoff where Piver was crowned the champion and firing a birdie on the second hole. Wallace made par, just missing the chance to keep the playoff going.
“Every time you’re playing with any of the top guys out here, having any of them in your group, I’m going to have an eye on them,” Wallace said of having a player like Piver in this year’s final group. “I’m not going to worry about them, but I’m going to keep an eye on them because at any moment any of the guys out here could get hot.”
Also in the final grouping for the tournament was Pensacola Catholic’s Hudson Mitchell, who shot a 76 on the first day. He responded with a 69 in the second round, which included four birdies on the back, to take second overall with a two-day total of 145. Piver finished third overall (149).
“It always feels good whenever you know you don’t have to do much but play your own game. You don’t have to sit there and strive to do more than you think you can,” Wallace said of his stretch on the back nine.
‘We’ve got to come back and do something’
The tournament victory is Wallace’s third of the summer for the Greater Pensacola Junior Golf Association. Wallace won the Blue Angel Classic at A.C. Read Golf Course and the Southern Juniors at Scenic Hills Country Club.
Everything – including shooting in the 60s – has been a “confidence-booster,” Wallace noted, especially with the summer of work he’s put in. If he “can go into the high school season” doing what he’s been doing during the summer tour, it’ll be “pretty good for (his) confidence.”
Now, the focus turns to his senior season at Tate High School. Wallace got off to a hot start after he was named the fall’s first PNJ Athlete of the Week. But as he continued to tear through the season, Wallace missed the District tournament due to an illness.
“I think this year, I’ve got to prove to people – just friends and family – that last year was a fluke and it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to come back and do something,” Wallace said. “I just need to go out, play my golf and go somewhere with it.”
Abby Vernier wins Girls Division
Trailing by four strokes after the first round of the tournament, West Florida’s Abby Vernier was up to the challenge.
After starting the second round with a bogey, Vernier finished the front nine without another blemish on the scorecard. While she began the back nine with another bogey, she hit a birdie on the par-5 14th hole to bring her score back to just one-over.
Vernier finished the tournament with a two-day total of 151 to claim the Junior Masters Girls Overall division.
That birdie wound up being the difference-maker as she topped Pensacola’s Gabby Hultstrand and Northview’s Anna Kunkel, who both carded two-day totals of 152. Hultstrand led the field after the first round with a 74, but shot a six-over 78 on Tuesday. Kunkel wasn’t far behind with a pair of 76s.
“I was really just trying to focus on my own game, because obviously you can’t control other people’s games. I knew I was close,” Vernier said. “I wasn’t focusing on just winning. I was focusing on one shot at a time.”
Vernier said the biggest change from Monday to Tuesday was hitting more fairways throughout the round.
“Today, my ball-striking was a little bit better. I hit more fairways, and I hit more greens, and that just makes it a lot easier,” she said. “I’m glad I pulled it together and made a good round today.”
Vernier is entering her sophomore season after a third-place finish at the District 1-2A meet in October last season. She carded an 80 at Scenic Hills – where she also won the GPJGA’s Southern Juniors this this year. Vernier also finished second at this year’s Divot Derby.
“I’m really excited. High school’s a good way to get recognized, and I hope I can carry it on and continue to improve,” Vernier said.
14th Annual A. Downing Gray Cup
Aug. 1-2, 2023
1. Jack Wallace, Tate – 142 (73/69)
2. Hudson Mitchell, Pensacola Catholic – 145 (76/69)
3. Mark Piver, Gulf Breeze – 149 (73/76)
4. Baylor Touchstone, Cantonment – 151 (76/75)
5. Evan Covington, Pensacola Catholic – 156 (80/76)
1. Abby Vernier, West Florida – 151 (78/73)
T2. Gabby Hulstrand, Pensacola – 152 (74/78)
T2. Anna Kunkel, Northview – 152 (76/76)
T4. Mariane Johnson, Niceville – 153 (80/73)
T4. Holland Davidson, Gulf Breeze – 153 (76/77)
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Jack Wallace, Abby Vernier win GPJGA’s A. Downing Gray Cup