60th Annual Men’s Youth Villa Classic Golf Tourney: Sunday Update, Pooley catches Walker Going into Final Day
By Joel Helm
On the second day of the 60th annual Youth Villa Classic in Bartow on Sunday, scores in the championship flight hovered closer to even par despite idyllic conditions and an easier course setup. Babson
Park’s Rhett Pooley managed a -2, 70 to tie first-round leader Bryce Walker through 36 holes.
Walker, a rising senior at Florida Southern who grew up playing at the Bartow golf course, shot a steady even par 72 after his first round 65. Walker and Pooley’s -7 total was good for a 3 shot lead over Walker’s Florida Southern teammate Adam Alvarez, who caught fire late in the day Sunday after a mildly disappointing first 27 holes.
Sunday Update Continued:
Alvarez’s opening nine of 36 on Sunday began with a bogey, but the Winter Haven product launched his back nine with birdies on 10, 12, and 14, and closed with more birdies on 17 and 18 to post the best round of the day at 68.
Meanwhile, Pooley also started slow, bogeying the opening hole before finally finding red figures after birdies on 6 and 9. After pars on 10 and 11, Pooley played flawless golf from 12 through 15, carding three birdies out of the next four, including a nice left to right putt after a good approach on the shortened 15th.
With the tricky 16th playing dead into the breeze on Sunday, the hole played well over par throughout the field. Alvarez and Walker both carded bogeys, while Pooley managed a par to wrestle a two shot lead over Walker.
After Walker posted pars on both 17 and 18, Pooley arrived at the par-4 18th with a two shot cushion and hit a nice cut 3-wood down the left side of the fairway. There, Pooley’s only misstep of the afternoon came on the approach, a low bullet that looked like it would catch the bunker to the right of the green, only to take a bad bounce and go out of bounds. Pooley dropped, pulled his next approach well left, and would have to make an impressive up and down to tie Walker. After a deft chip, trickling 11 feet past the pin, Pooley calmly rolled in the double bogey putt to tie Walker as the head into Monday’s final round.
“This is so fun,” said Pooley, who is playing the Villa for the first time. “I grew up playing muni golf, and this is a great time with great friends. Tomorrow I just need to get out here and make birdies, that’s the name of the game here.” “I played pretty steady golf today,” said Walker, who will play in the same pairing as Pooley and Alvarez tomorrow.
“I was never more than one over or one under today. I made a lot of pars. I’ll have the same game plan tomorrow, I just need to make more putts like I did yesterday.”
Final round of the Youth Villa Classic begins with a shotgun start Monday at 10:00 a.m. with the leaders teeing off about a half hour after the field on hole 1.
At the opening round of the 60th annual Youth Villa Classic in Bartow on Saturday, near record low temperatures to begin the day were only eclipsed by championship flight scores even lower.
As the first tee shot hit the air, temps had yet to reach 70 degrees, a first in more than three decades.
Factor in a light breeze and a few early participants donned light jackets before afternoon conditions neared perfection. Taking full advantage of idyllic conditions and his familiarity with the golf course, Bartow resident Bryce Walker paced the field in round one with an impressive -7, 65 to enjoy a two-shot lead over Babson Park’s Rhett Pooley with 36 holes to play.
After holing a 40 foot putt on 2 from just off the green, Walker gave it right back with a bogey on the short par-3 third. But a quick bounce back chip-in birdie on the fourth got him to red figures for good.
“That chip in on four really got my round going,” said Walker, a rising senior at Florida Southern. “It was a good bounce back and from there I really played good golf coming in.”
Walker would go on to blitz the rest of the front nine, carding more birdies on 6, 8 and 9 to go out in a -4, 32. Birdies on 10, 12, and 14 gave him a little separation from the field and confidence with his putter.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking much about anything. (Playing partner Jackson Singletary) kept me pretty calm all day. I was just out there enjoying a good round with good friends.”
Meanwhile, Pooley played in the group behind Walker, pushing him with his own strong front nine.
After starting with five steady pars, Pooley caught fire after an eagle 3 on the par-5 sixth . He followed that up with an impressive 2 on the tricky, undulating green at the par-3 seventh, before another impressive eagle on the 525 yard par-5 ninth .
From there, Pooley would cool off again, making nine straight pars on the back to turn in a -5, 67 for solo second place going into Sunday.
Sitting alone in third is former Southeastern University standout James Preston, whose fireworks included an up and down round that ultimately ended with a -2, 70 to sit 5 shots back. The long-hitting Preston made third birdies on the front and eagled both par-5’s on the back, but a slew of bogeys kept him well back of Walker.
Defending champion Adam Alvarez had a tough time on the front, posting a +3 39 before climbing back towards contention with a back nine 34.
Five-time champion Tiger Godwin carded a front nine +1 37 before getting back to even on the back, while
Bartow’s Micah Long was the only other player to reach red figures, posting a 35, 36 total of 71.
“I am really happy to see Bryce break through with a good round,” said Tournament Director Chris Banks, who has worked with Walker since he came to Bartow golf camp when he was 6 years old. “If he had as much belief in his own game as I do, I know he’d turn in rounds like this more often.”
“To make 9 birdies out here today was some kind of impressive. That was the toughest setup we’ll see all weekend.”
Walker tees off Sunday at 12:30 while Pooley is right behind them at 12:40.
The storyline for the 60th annual Youth Villa Golf Classic—at least before the first tee shot has been struck—is the talented youth on display in a strong field of 125 golfers.
“This year is really interesting because we have so many young guys,” said Bartow Golf Course Head Professional and Tournament Director Chris Banks. “We’ve got all of these good college players, but in addition, a few guys that are new to the field that are really going to compete.”
Banks, whose grandfather Teddy Phillips Sr. founded the tournament more than 60 years ago, has run the event for 26 years and pours his heart and soul into continuously making improvements to the county’s largest and longest running individual tournament.
“This week is always an emotional one for me. I can’t thank people enough for supporting this event. This year, the 60th, I really think we’re going to put on a good show.”
Winter Haven’s Adam Alvarez returns to the field in 2023 to defend his title after finishing a strong redshirt junior campaign as the top golfer at nationally ranked Florida Southern. Alvarez, who spent a good deal of time under the tutelage of Banks before joining the team at Florida Southern as a walk-on—and eventually earning a scholarship—has put together a strong career resume for the Mocs.
After a slow start as a redshirt freshman, Alvarez soon shot towards the top of the lineup as a sophomore. Over the course of the fall and spring seasons, Alvarez tallied a 73.28 stroke average to finish 2nd on the team, including a team best 14 rounds at par or better. Outside of team play, Alvarez enjoyed success at a number of prestigious amateur events, including the Orlando City Amateur where he dominated a strong field en route to a blistering 10-shot victory.
Last summer, Alvarez snapped Tiger Godwin’s record-setting streak of victories at the Youth Villa Classic, taking home the title before putting together a team-best season as a junior in 2023, taking home a whole slew of accolades along the way.
Joining Alvarez as competitors to watch will of course be Tiger Godwin, whose impressive streak of 4 straight victories stretched all the way back to 2017, with one year scratched out because of COVID-19 concerns. Fellow Florida Southern Moc and longtime Bartow resident Bryce Walker returns to the field, along with past champion Jamie Howell and longtime participant Drew Guffey. New to the field for 2023 are Babson Park’s Rhett Pooley, a staple at high level amateur events around Florida and runner up at the FSGA Foursomes Championship in 2022, along with Cleveland Heights 4ball runners up James Preston and Nick Strickler. Strickler, who is just 19, came within a shot of the second stage of US Open qualifying two weeks ago, while Preston recently finished his collegiate career at Southeastern University.
“These young kids can bomb it,” says Banks. “You’re going to see a lot of birdies, some eagles too. I think they’re really going to put on a show. The golf course is in fantastic shape and we’re going to have a great weekend. I can’t wait.”
Championship Play begins Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and continues Sunday and Monday, with the final round shotgun start beginning at 11:00 a.m.