It has been a little more than a month since Richland High School’s Carl Underwood won the Class 4A boys state golf title, but he has packed a lot into those weeks, including earning a trip to Mexico.
Underwood, who rolled in a 30-foot putt to win the state title at Richland’s Meadow Springs Country Club in May, earned enough points over three qualifying tournaments to land a spot on Team Washington for the Junior America’s Cup.
The 44th annual event will be held July 24-28 at Guadalajara Country Club in Mexico, and Underwood said his passport is in order to cross the border after a trip to Europe last year.
“This is pretty big,” Underwood said. “It’s bigger than state.”
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Underwood follows in the footsteps of former Kamiakin High golfer Scott Johnson, who was a three-time member for Team Washington (1989-91). He said “big” is an understatement.
“It is a huge deal,” Johnson said. “Basically, it’s the four best kids in the entire state. Any sport, you break it down to the top four players, and you are a stud. It is earned. It’s not voted on; it’s not political. You earn it on points, which is why it is even more fantastic. There is not argument as to who gets on the team — 70 beats 71 every time across the board.”
Though it has been a few years since Johnson played in the tournament, he still has fond memories.
“I played against Tiger Woods (in 1990-91). That is pretty self-explanatory of how great (the tournament) is,” Johnson said. “I’m still pals with the guys who were on my teams. Good for Carl. It will be a great experience for him.”
Pasco’s Greg Lavoie (1999), Richland’s Zach Bixler (2002) and Southridge’s Nick Mandell (2011) also played in the prestigious event.
Underwood is part of a four-man team that includes Redmond’s Sean Kato, who tied for second behind Underwood at state, and Thomas Jefferson’s Sean Yi, who tied for fifth.
The fourth man is Freeman’s Ryan Maine, who placed second in the Class 1A state tournament at Liberty Lake Golf Course near Spokane.
“I think I have a quality group of kids,” team captain Jim von Doehren said. “I couldn’t be more delighted to take these guys to Mexico. It only happens once every 17 years (in Mexico). These four will be great ambassadors for the state of Washington. Going to Mexico will be quite an experience. They will get to see things they don’t see in the states.”
Von Doehren has coached golf at Thomas Jefferson, Decatur High School and Green River Community College. He said it is hard to make the Junior America’s Cup team.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for Carl and the others,” von Doehren said. “This is bigger than state. This is the closest thing they will get to college golf. They will be playing against high-caliber players. Each team is hard to make.”
Underwood earned his way to Mexico by scoring points in two of three qualifying tournaments.
Underwood placed second at the Eastern Open at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco in early spring. He followed with a third-place showing at Hangman Valley Golf Course in Spokane, but because the two golfers ahead of him were from Canada, Underwood picked up the first-place points.
In his final tournament, Underwood finished 16th on June 25 at Tumwater, but he already had enough points to make the cut.
“I did well enough in the first two that I kind of knew I was going to go,” he said.
Team Washington has boasted such players as Fred Couples (1976-77), Ryan Moore (1998-99), Kyle Stanley (2004), Michael Putnam (2000), Andrew Putnam (2004) and Chris Williams (2007).
Other famous JAC alumni include Woods, Phil Mickelson, Corey Pavin, Peter Jacobsen and Duffy Waldorf.
The Washington Junior Golf Association has outfitted the team with shirts and golf bags, and “pretty much a free trip to Mexico,” Underwood said.
“We are fortunate our association is a viable program and we can send our guys to this great event,” von Doehren said. “It’s a phenomenal program.”