It’s not all that often the International Junior Masters can hype having a defending champion in the field. Winners either capture the title in their final year of eligibility or, a time or two, decide they no longer can fit the tournament into their schedules. But this year defies the norm, and a historic repeat could be in the making as reigning champion Trevor Ranton continues to buzz the field.
Ranton ran his IJM match-play winning streak to eight Thursday with a pair of routine victories and stands two wins away from becoming the first repeat champion since Briny Baird doubled up in 1988-89 en route to a PGA career. A pair of local golfers, Denny Lyons in 1961-62, and John Konsek in 1954-55, are the only other back-to-back winners of the event, in its 62nd year at East Aurora Country Club.
“I think last year during this interview I said I really just wanted to make the championship flight,” said Ranton, 16, from Waterloo, Ont., “But now I think my goal is to win again.”
Ranton dismissed No. 2 seed Javier Gonzalez of Mexico, 6 and 5 in the morning and followed up with a 4 and 2 triumph over Baker Stevenson of Hartland, Mich. Ranton will face Blake Gerber of Mesa, Ariz., in today’s 9 a.m. semifinal. Gerber, 15, advanced by defeating Ivan Ramirez of Colombia and Nick Hofland of Ancaster, Ont., by 3 and 2 scores.
The other semifinal is delicious in its own right. Will Thomson, the 13-year-old phenom from Pittsford, upended medalist Andres Gonzalez of Mexico, 1-up, in the morning and made quick 6-and-4 afternoon work of Maxime Laoun of Montreal. Thomson moves on to an 8:50 a.m. semifinal against Nolan Ditcher, a junior-to-be at Randolph High School and the top Section VI finisher at the state high school championships. Ditcher ground out a 1-up win over Brandon Lacasse of Chateauguay, Que., and a 2-and-1 conquest of Colin Dubnik of Rochester.
There’s a more confident air about Ranton’s game this time around. Last year he was a golfer more or less wondering the extent of his capabilities. The IJM title cleared away a mental roadblock and propelled his game to an even higher level.
“I think it’s actually improved tremendously,” he said. “After I won this last year, I had an OK summer but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Then during the winter, since I was on Team Ontario, I was able to take a few trips down south and really work on my game hard. It’s been showing this year. I’ve had a couple of good finishes in Canada and then I just qualified for the U.S. Junior.”
There’s no putting a finger on the phase where Ranton has made the greatest strides.
“I would say just kind of consistency and being able to play under pressure,” he said. “Last year when I was just playing at my home course, I could do really well and never really had a great round in tournaments whereas this year I’ve been able to throw up a few under par in tournaments.”
While Ranton continues to slay the field in the manner befitting a defending champion, Thomson keeps validating his reputation as a young golfer of immense potential. His 9-iron from 121 yards to 6 feet set up the par that derailed the top-seeded Gonzalez in the morning. The afternoon proved a walk in the park as he built a 5-up lead through six. A scratch golfer at Oak Hill, Thomson stands 5-foot-4½ and weighs 115 pounds.
“I wanted to try to get pretty far in the tournament, but it was tough for me to expect to go so far at such a young age with all these great players,” Thomson said. “So I’m definitely happy to be where I am.”
That makes him sound a lot like the Ranton of a year ago. Only after making the semis did Ranton entertain thoughts of taking it through to the title.
“Now that I’m this far, I definitely want to try to make a good run at it, try to hit the ball well, make some putts and see what happens,” Thomson said.