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Kerns crowned Ohio Jr. Amateur champ

LANCASTER — Nathan Kerns had one last time to play in the Ohio Junior Amateur Golf Championship. And what a time he had.

The former Ironton Fighting Tigers’ All-Ohio golf standout shot a 141 total over the two-day event to claim the championship by two strokes over defending champion Smith Brinker of Cincinnati.

Kerns had rounds of 69 and 72 for a 3-under par score over the 6,657-yard Lancaster Country Club course as he joined another Ironton golfer atop the final leaderboard. Justin Collins was a two-time winner in 1997-98.

“It feels good,” said Kerns. “It’s pretty elite company when you join guys like Justin. Joe Ogilvie is on the winner’s list and he’s on the (PGA) tour now.”

Even though Kerns’s had a three-stroke lead after the first round and won by two shots, he was tied with Brinker heading toward the final hole. Kerns was playing the final round with Stephen Sinchok and Brinker.

The final three holes were par 5s on No. 16 and No. 17 while No. 18 was a long par 3. It came down to just Kerns and Brinker.

“We both had birdies on 16, he birdied 17 and I missed a putt (for par),” said Kerns. “On 18, if you hit the ball a little left, it would go down over the bank. (Brinker) hit first and he went over the bank. I hit the green. It was a tight. It was not easy on 18. My hands will tell you that.”

Kerns was up three shots heading into the back nine, but Brinker was playing well.

“Every shot he hit was perfect,” said Kerns. “I didn’t get conservative. When he kept dropping birdies, I just tried to block it out. I was on 16 when I found out the low score in the clubhouse was par. I had a one stroke lead at the time.”

Kerns said he played a better round on Tuesday, but he still was hitting the ball well on Wednesday. He admitted he started to think championship about midway through the final round.

“This course set up harder on the second day,” said Kerns. “I knew there would be a couple of kids in front of me who would play well. I knew if I could play around par that I’d be okay.

“Around six or seven, I made two 15-foot (putts) to save par. That’s when I started to think about it more. I made the turn and I still had the same lead on (Brinker) and he played so well on the backside.”

Because of the conflict with the AJGA Tournament at Bellefonte (Ky.) Country Club, it was only the third time Kerns has been able to play the Ohio Junior Amateur. He previously played in the tournament at Shady Hollow in Massillon and the Marion Country Club.

Kerns said the Lancaster course was very challenging.

“I played it once in a U.S. Open qualifier and I kind of got a feel for it. I also played the practice round,” said Kerns.

“(The course) was in immaculate shape. It’s a great layout. It wasn’t the best course I’ve played, but it was very good. I played some really amazing courses last summer, but this one is up there.”

Two other Ironton golfers played in the tournament for the first time. Andy Holtzapfel shot an 82-81 for a two-day 163 total or 9-over par. Teammate Josh Zornes had rounds of 83-86 for a 169 score and 14 over.

A total of 181 golfers played in the tournament.