Aspen golfer Jack Hughes wins competitive AJGA Hale Irwin tournament in Denver
Jack Hughes didn’t have to think long about the question. Yes, it was the biggest win of his golf career and one that could set him up for bigger things down the line.
A recent graduate of Aspen High School, Hughes won the prestigious Hale Irwin Colorado Junior golf tournament Thursday, played at Walnut Creek Golf Preserve in Westminster. The American Junior Golf Association event is one of the premier junior-level tournaments in the country and featured an international field.
Hughes competed in the event, named after University of Colorado and PGA Tour legend Hale Irwin, for the first time last summer, finishing 10th.
“The Hale Irwin is one of the premier events on the AJGA tour. It’s not one that’s easy to get into,” AHS boys golf coach Mary Woulfe said. “He’s definitely on the radar and on the map now. People are going to start to know who he is. What’s really important is he is getting confidence.”
Hughes, who is signed to play collegiately at CU in Boulder, finished the three-day tournament with a 4-under-par 212 to win by two strokes over Evan Paquette of Grapevine, Texas. He overcame a subpar second round and a bogey-bogey-bogey finish in the third round to earn the biggest win of his amateur career.
Thanks to back-to-back eagles early in his first round, Hughes shot 67 on Tuesday to lead by a stroke going into Day 2.
“Second day I was definitely a little nervous stepping up on the first tee,” Hughes said of the 74 he shot Wednesday that left him two shots back of the lead. “I had a very solid front nine (in the third round). I got in at 2-under, and kept making a few birdies. I think I was 4-under on my round through 13 holes. Then I stepped up on the 16th tee box and my dad told me I had a five-shot lead and I started to get a little nervous. I had a rough finish.”
Despite his struggles over the final three holes, it was enough for the win. Hughes played in the final pairing Thursday, which included Dillon Stewart of Fort Collins, one of the top players in the country who will compete for powerhouse Oklahoma State University in the fall. Stewart, who Hughes said he knows very well, had the lead after two rounds but shot 79 on Thursday to finish tied for fifth.
“This is really huge for him because even though he’s already admitted into college, it’s a huge confidence builder,” Woulfe said of Hughes. “It’s kind of validating where he is and what he’s doing. But he’s taking his game to the next level, which is probably most important for him.”
Woulfe coached Hughes in high school, with the Skiers winning the Class 3A state championship in the fall, a program first. Hughes was runner-up in the state tournament, finishing three shots behind Kent Denver’s Jackson Klutznick.
That state tournament was played at Boulder Country Club, which will be one of the home courses for Hughes when he begins his collegiate career with the Buffaloes in the fall.
“I’m excited to start that journey,” Hughes said. “It’s going to be a completely different atmosphere. Definitely jumping into a lot higher level of play and a lot higher expectations.”
Before he gets to Boulder, Hughes still has plenty on his calendar this summer. Next up, he will compete in the 2019 IMG Academy Junior World Championships, a four-round event held July 9 to 12 at Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego. Hughes competed in junior worlds once before, when he was only 14.
And by winning the Hale Irwin tournament this week, he will likely see his national ranking skyrocket, which could open doors for other premier tournaments. And, as one of the youngest kids in his graduating class who doesn’t turn 18 until August, he’ll get all of next summer to compete at the junior level one more time, which cuts off at 19.
“I’m really, really proud of him. He works really, really hard,” Woulfe said. “As an amateur you are building your resume. Jack’s goals are very lofty this year to do really, really well in the junior tournaments he will continue to compete in and to place very high. The quality of the fields that he’s putting himself in are just getting harder and harder.”
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