Palm Beach Gardens youth golf team victorious in Scotland

A smile from golfer Phil Mickelson made Madison Hyndman’s day last month at the 2018 Open Championship in Scotland.

Winning the Junior Ryder Cup Challenge several days later wasn’t so bad, either.

Hyndman, 11, along with 14 other members of the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association junior golf team, defeated a local team from Scotland, 73-71, to claim the championship at Dalmahoy Golf Course in Edinburgh.

The tournament was tied 4-4 after all eight, two-man matches were complete — one coach per team also played — so the winner was determined by points per hole.

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The PBGYAA team, composed of players ages 9-17, edged the Scottish team on points. Players and coach Sherri Pla got the news while eating lunch.

“We were eating and waiting,” said Pla, who is the head golf professional at Sandhill Crane Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens. “It was so close. We were on pins and needles. It was amazing.”

The Junior Ryder Cup Challenge was played near the end of the PBGYAA golf team’s 10-day trip to Scotland, which began July 17.

The team spent much of its time sightseeing and playing golf. It visited six golf courses during its trip, Pla said, including historic courses at St Andrews, Scotscraig and Carnoustie Golf Links, where the 2018 Open Championship was played.

“The goal for us was to give the kids a life-changing experience,” Pla said. “We got to experience different countries, we got to experience kids from different cultures, and experience the history of the game they love. They all love golf, and then to go to the home and birthplace of golf — we created our own trip around that.”

Team members, like King’s Academy senior Joseph Lemke, 17, marveled at the differences between the Scottish links courses compared to the ones at home.

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Links courses, which are common in Ireland and Great Britain, are found along the coastline and have rolling hills, sand dunes and bunkers, tall grass and few trees.

“The golf over there is different,” Lemke said. “It’s not like playing here, where there’s a lot of water. It’s really a lot of tall grass. It’s not really like anything you’d see over here. It’s just such a learning experience for all the kids to see it and experience it. You watch it on TV all the time, but you never really know how it feels to play there.”

Lemke and his teammates earned that opportunity by embarking on a six-month fundraising initiative. The players collected donations at supermarkets and golf tournaments, volunteered at special events and set up a GoFundMe page.

They also received donations from The Honda Classic, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, The Gardens Mall and the city of Palm Beach Gardens, among others. In total, the team raised $65,000 to send all 15 players to Scotland. Parents paid their own way.

“We did as much as we could to have the kids really front and center, and to understand what it’s like to earn their way,” Pla said. “We had such huge support from the community.”

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