Right up until the end, Trevor Ranton struggled to win over believers during the International Junior Masters at East Aurora Country Club. He was the 32nd and final seed in the championship flight and survived a five-for-three spots playoff just to gain entry. He proceeded to knock off the No. 1 seed and the next three players who crossed his path. Yet the consensus among his competitors before Friday’s final labeled Ranton the pronounced underdog in his title match against Mexico’s Raul Pereda.
But Ranton has one of those sneaky games that lends itself to understatement. He’s not particularly long off the tee. At 16, he’s still striving for consistency, as was evident when he shot 77-77 in medal play. But when he finds his groove, watch out. And he found it early on the back nine Friday afternoon, stringing three straight birdies en route to a 4-and-3 victory, the green jacket and the biggest win of his young career.
“It’s what I was hoping for but not what I was expecting,” Ranton said.
Neither competitor had managed more than a one-hole advantage by the time they finished No. 10 all square. The match, delayed an hour and 15 minutes on the front side, begged for someone to overcome the adverse conditions and elevate to a level worthy of perhaps the deepest field in tournament history. Ranton rose to the occasion.
He hit 6-iron to 8 feet on the 403-yard 11th and drained the putt for his first birdie of the match. Pereda, who had birdied the previous hole, missed from 10 feet, enabling Ranton to go 1-up.
“That kind of started it off because he made the birdie before,” Ranton said. “And then he put it close as well, so him missing it and me making it I think kind of turned tables for the round.”
Although it seemed subtle at the time, the momentum shift became immense. Ranton drilled a 3-wood from 236 to 30 feet and won the par-5 12th with birdie. He outdid that shot with a 6-iron to 4 feet on the 191-yard 13th, going 3-up.
Pereda knew time was running short. He blistered a drive on the 378-yard 14th, hit his approach to 6 feet, putting him in perfect position to whittle the deficit. Instead, he rolled the downhill breaker 3 feet by and missed the comebacker. What’s more, he conceded Ranton a breaking 3-footer for par, putting the match dormie.
“I was surprised,” Ranton said. “It wasn’t an easy putt. It was a 3-footer and it broke. Outside edge putt.”
Pereda said: “I was nervous. It’s different for me in Mexico. You don’t have many people following you. It’s hard to control my feelings. My head was spinning. It’s a long tournament. I had to make that birdie, like 5 foot long putt, and then I miss it back.”
Pereda conceded the match with both in par position on the 15th hole.
Pereda gained the final with a 4-and-3 morning victory over friend and Mexican Junior Team teammate Eduardo Carrete. Ranton advanced by routing Brendan Hunter of Groton, Mass., 7 and 6.
“I didn’t play bad,” Pereda said. “I played really well the semifinals against my partner. I just wanted to enjoy. We came here to play golf and to enjoy this game and I’m not sad. I’m very happy, second place. He played well. I made some mistakes. But it’s fine.”
The title match was halted after the first hole by a downpour that rendered the course temporarily unplayable because of flooded greens. When play resumed, both competitors struggled to find a rhythm. Pereda made the only birdie of the side on the par-5 third. Both hit errant tee shots on the par-3 fourth, a hole Ranton won with bogey. And then there was the par-4 sixth. Ranton’s approach was fading toward out of bounds when it struck a tree branch solid and landed 4 feet from the pin. Pereda wasn’t so fortunate. His approach caught the same tree and continued OB. The battle of attrition finally ended with Ranton’s birdie run early on the back side.
“I think we both just knew that we had to pick it up,” Ranton said. “We’re both pretty good players. I don’t think we both expected to keep winning holes with pars and even bogeys. That’s what got me going. I knew I had to start doing something.”