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Konner Kubica, Connor Fox, Julian Menser and Parker Stalcup reach final four at Michigan Junior State Amateur – The Oakland Press
Konner Kubica, Connor Fox, Julian Menser and Parker Stalcup reach final four at Michigan Junior State Amateur – The Oakland Press

Julian Menser of South Lyon in action during the 46th Michigan Junior State Amateur Championship at Katke Golf Course at Ferris State University on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Golf Association of Michigan)

BIG RAPIDS – Stroke play medalist Konner Kubica of Northville, last year’s runner-up Connor Fox of Lake Orion, Julian Menser of South Lyon and Parker Stalcup of Lake Orion play in the semifinals of the 46th Michigan Junior State Amateur Championship Thursday morning.

Each won two matches on Wednesday at Ferris State University’s Katke Golf Course to secure a spot in the final four. Kubica will face Fox at 7:30 a.m. and Menser will face Stalcup at 7:40 a.m. The winners will play for the championship in the afternoon.

The final four have also been determined in the under-15 age group. They include David Han of Midland, Austin Helsel of Cedar Springs, Julian Sinishtaj of Macomb and Chris Quayle of Grand Blanc. Each of them won the round of eight on Wednesday. Han and Helsel will play at 7:50 a.m., Sinishtaj and Quayle will meet on Thursday at 8:00 a.m. The final will take place in the afternoon.

The overall championship winner’s name will be added to the Wright Memorial Trophy and he will receive an exemption to the U.S. Junior Amateur, which will be played in just over two weeks at Oakland Hills Country Club.

Kubica, 16, who is homeschooled, extended his lead on the first nine holes in both matches and won them with identical scores of 5 and 4. First he defeated Howell’s Zach Spencer and then Ryan Kruschka in the quarterfinals. It was Kruschka who recovered late in the match to take defending champion Will Preston out of the match by 1-up in the morning’s round of 16.

Kubica, who won the Michigan State Pro-Am last month with one of his teachers, professional golf instructor Frank McAuliffe of Meadowbrook Country Club, said he entered the week with high expectations.

“I worked very hard and slowly made progress,” he said. “I had a feeling I would do well today.”

He said it will be crucial to stay disciplined and continue his solid play on Thursday.

“Today, for example, I was a little bit clumsy with the driver at the beginning, but then I somehow got a handle on it and played really solid golf after that,” he said. “That will be the goal tomorrow. Stay focused, stay disciplined.”

Fox, a senior at Lake Orion High who has verbally committed to play college golf for Michigan State University, edged Andrew Chang of Bloomfield Hills in the morning round of 16 and then faced Troy Nguyen of Macomb for 19 holes before winning the quarterfinals.

In his match against Nguyen, he was leading 1-0 after nine holes when last year’s under-15 champion began hitting his approach shots to within inches of the hole, allowing three birdies in a row to take a 2-0 lead.

“He hit them all so close and suddenly I was 2 down and knew I had to make birdies if I wanted to have any chance,” Fox said. “He helped me out a little with out-of-position tee shots on the last few holes and I think I hit the best 3-wood of my life on the 18th hole when I was 1 down.”

After a tee shot that hit the trees left of the fairway, Fox hit a 3-wood 250 yards to a spot next to the green on the par-5 hole and then promptly made a birdie to tie the match and force extra holes. He tied the match on the first extra hole when Nguyen ran into trouble on the No. 1 tee and eventually gave up the hole and the match.

“I wanted to get back to the final because I was so close last year and when I saw Will Preston had lost I thought, well, I don’t have to play him again,” Fox said. “It’s great to have the chance but I know there’s still a lot of golf ahead of me.”

Menser earned his chance in the final four by defeating Cooper Reitsma of Ada 1-0 in the round of 16 and then beating Drew Miller of East Lansing, who also signed with Michigan State University and will also be his roommate with the Spartans in the fall, 6-4.

“I played well and Drew had a couple of bad streaks,” he said. “It was tough having to play against him. He’s a great competitor and a really good friend too. You know, it’s good to surround yourself with really good players because it makes you better. We’re so competitive with each other, it makes us both better. I just had the better day today.”

Menser is in the last four for the first time and is looking forward to playing on the final day.

“I gave it my all today and will try to do the same tomorrow,” he said. “There are a lot of good players. You can’t let up.”

The 17-year-old Stalcup defeated Michael Houtteman of Glen Arbor 4 and 2 in the round of 16 and then had to go 20 holes to beat 2022 champion Max VanderMolen of Richland.

Stalcup played on two high school state championship teams at Clarkston Everest Collegiate, but said this was one of his greatest individual accomplishments in golf to date.

“It would be really great to win the whole thing, but it’s cool to get this far because I’ve had some tough games,” he said.

Stalcup, who finished second at the International Junior Masters in New York earlier this year, trailed VanderMolen by 2 after 10 holes but caught up with three consecutive birdies on holes 11, 12 and 13 to take a 1-all lead. VanderMolen tied the match with a par on hole 14 and tied the match on the next five holes. Stalcup closed the match by winning the second extra hole with a par.

“I put him in a tough spot and then I parred my way out,” he said. “He definitely put on the pressure and I stayed right there, tried to keep the ball straight, make some putts and not get mad. My goal for this week was to not let it stress me out, just play golf, have fun and see what happens. Now we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

By Isla