By CRAIG DOLCH
Special to South Florida PGA
JUPITER – The Nicklaus Junior Championship finished Friday with birdies by the winners.
TJ Thompson of Coral Springs used a hot putter and a clutch finish Friday to win the overall boys title at the Nicklaus Junior Championship. And Gabriella Gomez of Miami birdied the first hole of a playoff to win the girls title over Sofia Cherif Essakali of Miami.
Thompson, a 16-year-old junior at Stoneman Douglas, shot a 4-under 68 at the Bear’s Club to win by two shots over Chase Cohen of West Palm Beach. Thompson played the par-5s in 3-under, including a wedge to tap-in distance at the 18th hole.
“It’s awesome to win Jack’s tournament. It means a lot,” Thompson said. “I felt like I needed to birdie the last hole. After a little mishap off the tee, I hit a great second shot and a wedge close. The flat stick was working both days. I had only 10 putts on the front nine (Thursday at North Palm Beach Country Club). This ranks at the top of what I have accomplished in golf.”
Gomez, a 16-year-old junior at Doral Academy, shot the day’s low round – a 2-under 70 – and then birdied the par-5 18th hole in a playoff for her first career title. She finished about 45 minutes before Cherif Essakali (73) also posted even-par 143.
“I was really nervous. I’m still nervous,” Gomez said. “I’ve never been in this position before. I played better than I thought I would.”
Cohen shot a 69 to finish at 4-under 139. NaShawn Tyson (70) was third at 2-under 141. Sebastian Thrane of Palm Beach shot the low round at North Palm to finish fifth at 2-over 143.
Gabriella Albert of Delray Beach shot 74 and was third at 2-over 145. Hope Hall (75) of Boca Raton was fourth at 5-over 146.
Previous winners of the Nicklaus Junior Championship include four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Chase Koepka, Derek Fathauer and Steve LeBrun.
The Nicklaus Junior Championship is presented by the Honda Classic and run jointly by the South Florida PGA and the Palm Beach County Golf Association. Supporting partners are Don Law Golf Academy, Titleist, The Fun Group at Mirasol, Junior Golf Hub, Tee Times News, Loyal Auto Broker, OGIO, TimberTech Championship, Biolyte, FGCU, ASM Scholarships and First Tee-Florida Gold Coast.