PGA Junior League Championship: Going to Grayhawk

The latest championship event in a long line of special tournaments played on Raptor

Krando Nishiba’s fist pump after holing a 35-foot birdie putt in a playoff that gave Team California the win over Team Georgia in last year’s PGA Junior League Championship.

The 2016 PGA Junior League Championships will take place on Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor course November 18-21. Back in May, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting for Grayhawk’s PGA Junior League team hosted by captain, Joe “Shoe” Shershenovich, and coach, Brian Miller. 

League play was a new concept for the players and parents alike, and as the meeting unfolded, Brian asked each team member to introduce themselves and call out their favorite professional golfers. Hands immediately shot up like they were commodity traders on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. 

They threw out names like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Brook Henderson, Lexi Thompson, Tiger Woods, Paula Creamer, Ian Poulter, Morgan Pressel and Jason Day, among others.

“I told them all of those golfers played in tournaments held at Grayhawk,” said Shoe, who has been the director of golf at the club since it opened in 1994. “In fact, they were sitting a couple feet away from the exact spot where Spieth gave a press conference leading up to the 2010 Thunderbird International Junior, which was held the week after Spieth played well as an amateur at the Byron Nelson. 

“Fowler also played here as a junior before The Thunderbirds gave him his first sponsor exemption as a professional to play in the Open at Grayhawk. He tied for first place before coming up short in a playoff,” he added. 

At that moment, the magic of Grayhawk aligned with the excitement of the PGA Junior League. The idea that their heroes competed on the very same golf course where they now play was simply sublime. And if you ask Shoe, that’s always been part of the plan.

“Early on, one of the things the owners talked about was building a facility for championship play whether it’s the Andersen Consulting World Championships in the late ‘90s, the Tiger Woods Williams World Challenge, or the Open,” said Shoe. “We started the Thunderbird International Junior in 2000. The PGA Junior League Championship is a great fit for us.”

The evidence is hanging on the walls: the persimmon driver Phil swung back in the day sits behind glass in the locker room along with a host of other Mickelson memorabilia. Pictures of Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie hoisting their world match play trophies; Tom Lehman doing the same at Tiger’s inaugural event; McCord and Feherty clowning around as captains for the Tommy Bahama Challenge; and a picture of Mike Weir posting one last PGA TOUR win in the twilight of his career also adorns the wall.

In 2015, the PGA Junior League had over 30,000 participants playing on nearly 2,500 teams across the country in all 50 states and 41 PGA sections. And these numbers are trending upward with no end in sight.

“It’s an honor to host the PGA Junior League Championships,” said Shoe. “We’ll certainly make an impression on the teams who compete. But the real impact of the PGA Junior League happens well before they ever get here, and it’s felt by more than just those who play in the championship. It’s a way to engage the community. It brings families and friends together. It gets kids away from their Xboxes and onto the golf course with their pals. It teaches them the value of teamwork, and above all, it teaches them to have fun.”

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