SANTA ANA PUEBLO – The congratulatory handshake and embrace between Notah Begay III and La Cueva High rising junior Jake Yrene proved meaningful and provided an unbelievable full circle event for Begay that came courtesy of his junior golf national tournament stop at Twin Warriors Golf Club on Tuesday.
Yrene (pronounced You-Reeny) dramatically grabbed the second and final qualifying spot in the boys 16-18 division by one stroke at the New Mexico Regional to advance to the championship in November. Begay, the Albuquerque native and prominent four-time PGA Tour winner whose passion is to provide access to the game through his tournament, was excited to explain his connection to Yrene.
When a reporter asked why Yrene’s accomplishment was so special, Begay quipped: “You don’t have enough ink in that pen.”
“His uncle, Don Zamora, was the head pro at Ladera,” Begay said. “(Zamora) gave me my first chance at the game. I stayed at (their) house in the summertime, and I would catch a ride with him to the course so I could go to work and have access to the game. … If it wasn’t for the entire Zamora/Yrene family, my career never happens. So to see it come full circle is amazing.”
Daichi Molde of Henderson, Nevada, won the boys’ 16-18 division with a 3-under 69 round on Tuesday to finish 1-over 143. Molde’s father, Tsutomu, is a 1989 graduate of Eldorado High and wrestled in high school and at the University of New Mexico.
Yrene’s mother, Rhonda (the former Zamora), met her husband, Don Yrene (The Canyon Club head pro), while the two played for the golf teams at Highland High, she said. Rhonda’s son expressed gratitude for his connection to Begay, who provides two qualifying spots only at the New Mexico Regional instead of one for all other stops.
“It’s huge, just to know someone who has a background like Notah,” Jake Yrene said. “When it comes to getting to the next level, Notah is going to be the guy to go to. It’s huge to know I have someone like that with me.”
Yrene shot 1-under 71 in the final round, 2-over 146 for the two-day tournament. When he was done with his steady round, that included one bogey and two birdies, he went to practice in case of a playoff. Clark Sonnenberg, a rising Albuquerque Academy junior, was mounting a comeback. He trailed by four shots early during the back nine that started on No. 1 and was played amid strong winds. With three holes remaining for Sonnenberg, he closed the gap to two shots for that second qualifying spot.
Sonnenberg caught Yrene after birdies on hole Nos. 7 and 8, the latter a tap-in after his 20-foot eagle putt was left hanging on the lip. Sonnenberg needed another birdie to beat Yrene on No. 9, his final hole, or par for a playoff. He bogeyed the hole.
“Going into 9, it was just a hard shot,” Sonnenberg said, adding the wind made his par putt from about 8 feet even more difficult. “I missed it right, which was a bad choice. I hit a really good chip, but didn’t make the putt. But that’s golf.”
Yrene said he has known Sonnenberg since the two were no taller than golf clubs, and they have had some competitive battles.
“We’re definitely friends,” Yrene said. “But once it comes to tournaments we get very competitive. Off the course, we’re pretty cool with each other. But on the course, you know, we want to go for each other.”
Here are more winners who will be advancing to Koasati Pines at Coushatta in Kinder, Louisiana, at Begay’s junior national championship.
BOYS: Thomas Whitten of Albuquerque won the 10-11 division. He shot 72-73 for 1-over 145. Anthony Chen (72-74 – 146) of Aurora, Colorado won the 12-13 division. Anderson Lee (72-71 – 143) of Henderson, Nevada won the 14-15 division.
GIRLS: El Paso’s Alexis Reyes (71-79 – 150) advanced and won by one stroke, as Albuquerque’s Callia Ward (75-76 – 151) finished second in the 14-15 group. Hannah Nguyen (74-78 – 152) of Phoenix won the 10-11 division. Kaitlyn Moreland (77-70 – 143) of Scottsdale, Arizona won the 12-13 division. Shay West (72-75 – 147) of San Angelo, Texas won the 16-18 division.