By Martin Cleary
It’s early in the competitive season for Ottawa golfers, but Isaiah Ibit is on fire.
And there’s a good reason why he has won two significant provincial-level junior tournaments in back-to-back fashion this month, after capturing the inaugural Ontario Junior Players’ Invitational tournament in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in March.
As a second-year member of Team Ontario, the Grade 11 student-athlete at St. Peter Catholic High School has been able to maintain a certain sharpness to his game throughout the year by attending provincial camps this winter in Florida and South Carolina.
When the competitive junior golf season started this month in Ontario, Ibit stepped up and started playing as if it was mid-summer. In his eight rounds of golf, he scored six rounds under par, one at even-par and one that exceeded par.
After shooting an opening-round 77 at the tournament in Myrtle Beach, Ibit stormed back from a four-stroke deficit for a two-shot win with a final-round 68.
That confidence and shot consistency returned two months later, when he faced Ontario’s best juniors in a pair of notable spring tournaments.
Ibit spent the long Victoria Day weekend winning the Junior (U19) Boys’ Spring Classic at the par-72 Wooden Sticks Golf Club in Uxbridge, ON. The Camelot Golf and Country Club member fired rounds of 68-69-71 for an eight-under-par total of 208, which left him one stroke better than runner-up Isaiah Ellis of Lookout Point Country Club.
“It came down to the stretch and I’m glad I was able to fight and grind it out against some great competitors,” Ibit told Golf Ontario. “Driving (went) just really well all week and I was able to just get the balls in the hole once I got to the greens.”
In a phone interview this week, Ibit added the course favoured strong drivers off the tee and he took advantage of that opportunity.
“I was definitely confident in my game and I felt ready,” he added. “Honestly, I was going in to play good golf and win the tournament because I knew I could.”
At the NextGen Ontario Championship on the par-71 Peterborough Golf and Country Club course last weekend, Ibit went 71-66-70 for a six-under-par 207 total. This time, his margin of victory was three strokes as Anthony Jomphe of Chicoutimi, PQ., placed second.
The victory also earned Ibit a berth in the 2023 Canadian Junior Boys’ Golf Championships Aug. 14-17 in North Bay, ON. Ibit had earlier qualified for this year’s national championships at a tournament last fall.
“After a great round (66, Saturday), I really wanted to capitalize and come out with a win (Sunday),” Ibit told Golf Canada. “I started off really nice right off the bat and continued that to the back nine. Things started to go off the rails a little bit (on the back nine), but I was able to bring it back.
“I’m really happy I was able to just keep in control of my emotions toward the stretch.”
Ibit said the Peterborough course wasn’t long, but it was difficult. The greens were challenging and he needed to be disciplined.
“Everything went exceptionally well,” he summarized in an interview. “It was excellent. I made putts when I needed and capitalized on good shots to the green.”
In the girls’ 54-hole competition, Simon Fraser University freshman Isabella Ferguson of Ottawa placed third at 71-76-72 for a six-over-par 219. Carlee Meilleur of Lansdowne, ON., was fourth at 70-76-75 for an eight-over-par 221.
Ferguson and Meilleur earned exemptions into the 2023 Canadian Junior Girls’ Golf Championships July 24-27 at Hampton Golf Course in Hampton, N.B.
“Obviously, it’s early for the Canadian golf season, but I didn’t feel it was too early. I had one-week golf camps during January and February in Florida,” said Ibit, who also spent time crafting his game in South Carolina during the March school break.
At the winter Team Ontario camps, Ibit has greatly benefitted from the coaching staff, who focus on various aspects of the game.
“It helps a lot to work on what we need to work on and be taught new things,” Ibit explained. “It’s nice because these coaches teach us the stuff to get us better.
“We’re also all good friends (at the camps), but we push each other and are competitive.”
While Ibit’s drives, iron shots and putts have been sound, he continues to improve the mental side of his game.
“We have sessions with our mental coach. There are numerous exercises we do, including breathing, to understand ourselves better,” said Ibit, who was introduced to that aspect of golf during his first year on Team Ontario. “Many of us had never incorporated that into our game.”
Ibit has been improving his ability to remain calm and focused in stressful situations, especially when leading or entering the final stretch of holes on the back nine.
In June, Ibit plans to attend a qualifying tournament in Pennsylvania for the United States Golf Association Junior Boys’ Championship July 24-29 at the Ralston Creek Course in Charleston, South Carolina.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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