Despite being separated by nearly three years and finding themselves at different stages of life, Brent Ito and Matt Minerva will arrive in Tennessee with much more in common than it would appear.
Ito, an Ardsley graduate, and Minerva, a Valhalla resident going into just his sophomore year at Iona Prep, are the only two locals qualified to compete at the U.S. Junior Amateur, which will be held July 18-23 at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. For both, qualifying was a watershed moment in already promising careers. Neither has ever qualified for a more prestigious event and they will begin play cognizant of that fact.
“I’m just going in open-minded and hope I can make something work,” said the 17-year-old Ito, who is committed to play at Michigan. “Obviously, winning would be the cherry on top, but I’m just trying to have fun and make the best of it.”
Minerva will enter with equally modest expectations after earning one of two available berths on June 22 at the Leewood Golf Club sectional qualifier in Eastchester. Minerva finished tied for second with Charles-Eric Belanger of Quebec, but he persevered in a playoff.
“I know the field is really good,” Minerva said of the U.S. Junior. “My goal is just to make match play and see where it goes from there.”
Minerva survived a blustery 36-hole test at Leewood, one of the area’s more narrow tracks. He had walked the course and jotted down notes the night before the competition and said that preparation allowed him to overcome the conditions.
“I got a great feel for it and I followed that plan for the two rounds,” Minerva said.
Because of scheduling conflicts, Ito bypassed qualifiers at Leewood and Edgewood Country Club in nearby River Vale, N.J. Instead, in his last opportunity to qualify before he turns 18 in December, Ito took the one-hour, 40-minute ride to Torrington Country Club in Goshen, Conn. He earned medalist honors and secured one of the two available spots from the sectional qualifier.
“I enjoyed the course. It was a pretty short course, so it wasn’t hard to handle it distance wise,” said Ito, whose two-round total of 143 was 1-under par. “I was hitting a lot of 2-irons off the tee and happened to shoot a good score that day.”
The U.S. Junior, which is open to players under 18, will begin Monday, June 18 with two rounds of stroke play. The top 64 finishers will qualify for match play, which is then slated to begin Wednesday, June 20.