South Xtra: Peters junior mows down competition on the links

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Winning is nothing new to Jake Sollon, a Peters Township golfer. Winning by 10 strokes, however, is.

Sollon, who will be a junior at Peters Township High School, first won a golf tournament when he was 8 years old and has won a few since then. But he's never dominated like he did at the West Penn Junior Championship on June 23 at Youghiogheny Country Club in Elizabeth.

A left-hander, he shot an even-par 144 for the 36-hole tournament, 10 better than the three players tied for second place -- Brendan Kelly, Zack Taylor and Dom Stevens. In all, 27 players shot between 154 and 164, yet none were able to finish within single digit strokes of Sollon.

Sollon's high school coach, David Kuhn, was impressed with his star's domination.

"I think he's a very good player. He's won some events. He's done very well in some big events. In terms of a 10-shot victory, no I haven't seen that," he said.

The leading golfer on Peters Township's golf team this past fall as a sophomore, Sollon opened up the tournament by shooting a two-under 34 on the first nine before finishing the par-72 course with a score of 70. That was the low round on the day. He followed that 18 with a two-over 74 to finish at even par and easily secure victory.

"Whenever I hit a bad shot, I had good rebound shots," Sollon said. "I didn't think about my score at all, I just thought shot by shot and added them up at the end."

After opening up a large lead, he had a few bogeys to begin the second 18. But, he had built up a large enough cushion and shot one-under par for the back nine to keep a large lead.

"My second 18, I struggled through the first nine holes and shot 39 on the front," Sollon said. "But I kept on grinding and stayed positive."

The tournament featured some of the area's top golfers, aged 17 and under. Kuhn noted that Sollon's complete game helped him defeat a talented group of golfers at a tough course.

"I'd say probably overall, the biggest strength that he has is that he's overall a solid player," Kuhn said. "I don't think he really has any glaring weaknesses. He's an excellent putter and has a very good iron game.

"Really, Youghiogheny, the greens can be difficult there. So placement and your approach to the green and excellent putting is a requirement to play as well as he did there."

Sollon is not invincible, however.

At a PGA Junior Series event at Penn State that started the day after the West Penn Juniors and ended on June 26, Sollon could not keep up the momentum. He tied for 30th in a 69-player field, shooting 239 over the three-day tournament, 27 shots behind the winning score.

After a few more summer tournaments, the high school season will be underway. Last year, Peters Township had a good season but did not advance to the state playoffs and neither did Sollon--something he is looking to change this season.

"If we play to our potential, it will pan out. We should be one of the top teams in the WPIAL," Sollon said.

Kuhn believes that Sollon will be one of the front-runners to win the WPIAL individual crown this fall.

Beyond that, Sollon will start eyeing college golf in the near future.

He turned some heads last October when he won the College Classic at Penn State, a tournament for players 15-19 years old. He shot 74-74--148 over 36 holes before going on to defeat two other golfers in a playoff. He considers that to be his biggest achievement on a golf course thus far.

"I go to Hershey next week to play in a [PA Boys] event, a really big event that a lot of colleges coaches will be at," he said. "Hopefully, I'll play well there."

Kuhn has no doubt that college golf is in Sollon's future. Over the past decade, at least 14 Peters Township players have gone on to play Division I golf in college and Sollon very well could be the next.

Until then, he has several high school tournaments to play in. Just don't expect him to win by 10 strokes every time.

Hayes Gardner: and Twitter: @HayesGardner

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