Sollon wins West Penn Junior Championship
While Jake Sollon was half the age of Tiger Woods when he picked up his first golf club, the 16-year-old Venetia resident is following in the footsteps of Arnold Palmer. He, too, has won a West Penn Junior Championship.
Palmer won the prestigious tournament, open to players 17 years of age and under, in 1947 and 1948; Sollon claimed his first Percy Preston Cup last week at the 94th event played on the par-72, 6386-yard course at the Youghiogheny Country Club in Elizabeth.
“While I had a goal to do well, winning is very significant,” said Sollon of the tournament, which is sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association. “It’s cool to see all the names of the players who won it in the past and to see how they have developed over the years and achieved goals as they advanced.”
Sollon hopes to advance the way Palmer did. The Peters Township junior aspires to become a professional golfer some day. “I hope so,” he said. “The goal right now is to be on the tour. But I have to keep playing well.”
Sollon certainly played well at the West Penn Juniors. During the 36-hole event, he opened with a 70. Though he carded a 74 during the second half of action, he birdied his last two holes to finish with a 144.
“I hit the ball well on the front 18 and putted well, but after 27 holes, the last nine holes can be really tiring,” Sollon noted. “I thought I played well all day, but I was able to finish strong.”
Sollon attributed some of his success to Reed Rayburg. He served as Sollon’s caddie. In tournaments like the West Penn Juniors, caddies are allowed.
“It makes it easier on you,” explained Sollon. “Reed kept me in it. He motivated me and picked me up when I had a bad hole.”
Because he strikes the ball well and consistently works on his short game, Sollon seldom experiences a bad hole. The Valley Brook Country Club member practices or plays three to four hours a day. He takes lessons from Matt Kluck, a PGA Professional who instructs out of the Mt. Lebanon Golf Course. He also gains valuable tips from his high school coach. Of David Kuhn, Sollon said, “I can go to him any time if I need something, anything.”
All that advice and instruction has produced results for Sollon. Before winning the West Penn, Sollon’s biggest victory came last October in an International Junior Golf Tour tournament at Penn State. With back-to-back 74s, he bested a field of 80.
On the scholastic level, Sollon won the Tri-County championships with a 71. A two-year varsity letterwinner, he competed on the Indians’ WPIAL runner-up squad in 2012 and the bronze medalist squad last autumn. As a freshman, Sollon individually was a WPIAL semifinalist. As a sophomore, he owned the low-scoring average on a senior-dominated team.
“Jake is a strong player that is fully committed to golf and works hard,” said Kuhn, who predicts Sollon’s game will continue to improve as he continues to mature as a player and person.
“This season,” Kuhn continued, “I look for Jake to take a giant leap from a young, inexperienced team member with a lot of talent to becoming a mature leader on and off of the course. I believe that Jake can be the next in a long line of top-level players that has come through our program.”
Playing high school golf is a welcome break for Sollon from tournament play. “I enjoy it a lot,” he said. “The team aspect is nice particularly when you usually are playing as an individual all the time. It’s nice to be able to rely upon others to play. It helps your mental and physical game.”
Back-to-back strong summers will help Sollon most with recruiters. While he has not conversed with many schools, Penn State, Rutgers and Northern Illinois have expressed some interest. While Sollon admits this year is important, he noted next summer is vital.
“This year sets me up but I need to continue to play well. The goal is to keep playing well and stay motivated by winning more events,” he said.
While he intends to return to basketball this winter, but not baseball this spring because it ‘interrupts’ his golf, Sollon has set high standards for this fall. “Winning is a good goal,” he said. “I hope to qualify and go to states as an individual and as a team.
“I know winning Juniors has given me more confidence. I know I can do it. I can be as good as I want to be if I put my mind to it.”