GOLF: The lights of the Junior Northern will shine this week

GOLF: The lights of the Junior Northern will shine this week

Record-Journal


Berlin professional golfers Brent and Cody Paladino have established themselves as being among the finest Connecticut has produced, but their brightest light is the tournament they established as teenagers and built on a foundation of love, family and friends.

The 16th annual Northern Junior Championship will be held this week at the New Haven Country Club in Hamden. The 36-hole tournament has become one of the most prestigious in the Northeast by attracting top junior golfers from the region, the nation and the continent.

The tournament is for young golfers who have yet to turn 19. The boys champion and runner-up qualify for two junior invitation-only tournaments this season and three in 2018, including the International Junior Masters. The girls champion qualifies for the 2018 North and South Junior Tournament and the Liberty National Junior Invitational.

The Northern Junior Championship has become a recruitment showcase for college coaches, which is remarkable considering its origins.

Cody and Brent were only 12 and 14, respectively, in 2001 when their grandfather Stan Trojanowski died of cancer. With a work ethic rare in boys so young, they pooled their organizational skills and, with the help of their family and contemporaries in Berlin, established solid footing for the tournament.

“For the seven years that the tournament was a member of the Connecticut Section PGA Junior Golf Tour, the Northern Junior was unquestionably the most prestigious event on the Tour,” Brent Paladino wrote on the tournament’s website. “Since its beginning, our goal has always been to provide the same championship experience and red-carpet treatment that the best national events around the country offer. We have worked hard to integrate special amenities not seen at most tournaments, such as live tournament scoring, on-course leaderboards, standard bearers and up to the minute updates on our website.”

One of their dearest comrades-in-clubs was Ryan Lee. Lee was the only golfer to win back-to-back Northern Junior championships, doing so in 2007 and 2008. When he became too old to compete, Lee gave back in various ways as an advocate and volunteer. He received a golf scholarship to Long Island University.

There, tragedy struck. Lee was hit and killed by a motor vehicle in April of 2011.

His father, Dan Lee and the rest of the family and some close friends, founded the Ryan T. Lee Foundation, which has steadily given back to the Berlin community and beyond. Dan Lee coaches varsity golf and boys basketball at Cheshire High School.

The Lee Foundation is to present one golfer with a college scholarship when the Northern Junior Championship concludes Wednesday.

“You have these young kids who went their separate ways but come back together for what’s important: honoring the game that has given them so much,” Lee said.

“They put in long hours making arrangements with courses, putting together websites and serving on committees.

“When Ryan passed, they were the first organization to memorialize him and we put together the scholarship. That’s indicative of the type of kids they are. They’re busy people in the professional world, but forego other things to make it work.”

Brent Paladino noted that the group with whom he and his brother played in their scholastic days is one of distinction.

“On any tournament like this, it’s one thing to answer emails and phone calls, but you can’t do it without a group that wants to make it special for kids,” said Brent, the director of competition and communication for the Connecticut State Golf Association who still holds 12 statistical records at the College of William & Mary.

“We started as a one-day event at Timberlin and, little by little, we picked up people who had a love for junior golf. We’ve turned it into a 501c3 (non-profit organization) and the unique thing is the average age of these people is 25 or 26. The majority of them played in college and high school and want to give back. We wouldn’t be where we are without golf. We are all indebted to the game and we look at this as building the next generation.”

Cody Paladino, who attended Baylor on a golf scholarship and was the 2015 Connecticut Open titleist, won the tournament in 2003 and 2005. Brent won in 2004.

The event is sanctioned by the United States Challenge Cup Organization and the Connecticut Section PGA. It is ranked by the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and the National Junior Golf Scoreboard, which are resources that help college coaches select their recruits.

“A lot of college recruiting happens in the summer,” Lee said. “If I’m a college coach, I can go to one tournament and see 120 kids, and they’re all playing the same course. It creates a situation for college coaches to compare the scores. You play these tournaments and results go into database and it creates a ranking so these tournaments are really important.

“Another important aspect is the strength of the field. The stronger the field is, the better it is for the players and the Northern Junior has a very strong field. It’s such a well-run tournament, one of best in the Northeast. It’s that well-regarded.”


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