By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Long-time golfer Yong Joo was encouraged by a few of his friends to compete for the first time in the 20th Annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Pro-Am Golf Tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club on Thursday afternoon, and once on the course, he had something else spurring him on.
Joo, a 36-year-old Maurertown resident who serves as a golf instructor at DPGolf Academy at the Broad Run Golf and Practice Facility in Bristow, found he and his team competing just ahead of tournament regular and two-time defending champion Dirk Schultz.
Joo had a front-row seat to Schultz's display of long, powerful drives, and that provided plenty of motivation for Joo, as he fired an 8-under-par 63 to win the Apple Blossom Pro-Am by four strokes over Schultz's 67.
Shenandoah Valley head golf pro Jeff Forman said he believes Joo's 63 is a tournament record.
"Dirk was playing behind me. He was reaching just about every green -- he's a long hitter. ... I thought he was shooting 11 under par, so I was just trying to keep up with him imaginarily," said Joo, who claimed a $1,000 prize for winning the tournament.
Joo, who played golf at Liberty University and competed for 11 years on the PGA's mini-tour circuit before joining Broad Run two years ago, said he's played at Shenandoah Valley "a few times," including for his Playing Ability Test (PAT) two years ago that was required for him to join the PGA's apprentice program.
Joo golfed like he had been playing the course his entire life on Thursday, as he tallied an eagle, six birdies and didn't bogey a hole en route to his best round at SVGC. He said his putting -- generally a strong suit for Joo -- was again his strength at the Apple Blossom Pro-Am.
"I just recently switched to these irons that have really gotten me more accurate, and actually a little bit longer, so the combination of that -- putting usually day in and day out is pretty solid," Joo said.
Joo and teammates Kurt Nelson, Casey McCullough and Thein Tha -- who also combined to win the team event with a score of 120 strokes -- began the tournament on hole 3 of the Blue Nine. Joo birdied holes 5 and 9 on Blue, and 3, 4, 5 and 7 on the White Nine before capping his brilliant display with an eagle on 1 Blue, his 17th hole of the day.
A solid drive and an equally strong approach shot settled the ball within six feet of the cup, and Joo sank the putt on his third shot on the par-5, 546-yard hole.
"There was some good putts along the way, but to cap it off with that eagle on 1 [Blue] -- I hit a driver and 4-iron to about six feet and it made it a pretty straightforward eagle putt," Joo said. "That kind of capped the day I guess."
Joe Lussier finished third on the professional leaderboard with a 68, and Jerry Donahue turned in a 69. Brendan McGrath and Woody Fitzhugh tied for fifth place, as each fired 70s on Thursday.
Josh Riggleman, a 1999 Sherando grad, held the top spot in the amateur gross category for most of the post-tournament carding period, but his 73 was topped late by Curie Fitzhugh's 72.
Riggleman, who had won top amateur gross in each of the last two years at the Apple Blossom Pro-Am, said he struggled with his short game all afternoon.
"I just didn't putt well," he said. "I three-putted three holes, including the last hole. I made some putts ... I made four birdies and I made a lot of bogeys, and three of them were three-putts. ... I hit the ball fine, it just came down to putting.
"I was two-over after eight and I birdied 4 White and 5 White, and ... I thought I could get back on track, I got some birdie holes coming in. But I made a birdie on 1 Blue and I three-putted the last hole. There really wasn't any memorable shots, just trying to get myself back in it, but nothing really special."
Scott Moore and Nikita Gubenko tied for the top amateur net score, as both carded 65s on the afternoon.
The Apple Blossom Pro-Am, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday before poor weather forced the event back a day, was condensed to one shotgun-start afternoon session on Thursday after quite a few teams had to back out, said Forman.
A total of about 53 teams were originally scheduled to compete in the tournament, but only 31 teams made up of 123 total players finished the event. Still, Forman was happy with the way the tournament played out, adding that the course conditions were "great" after the period of heavy rain that hit the area earlier in the week.
"All in all, weather-wise it turned out great. We made the right call. Had a great time, everybody was happy that they came and participated, and of course we're always happy to have them out here," Forman said.
"The superintendent and everybody on his crew did a wonderful job getting the course ready. The course was in great shape."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD