R.J. is A-OK at Grand Niagara
R.J. Derhodge made an impressive return to competitive golf Wednesday Grand Niagara.
After not playing a tournament round since wrapping up his second straight Niagara Junior Golf Tour points title last August at Beechwood, the 19-year-old Niagara Falls resident shook off the rust and carded an even par 72 to tie for third at a qualifier for the Ontario Men’s Amateur Championship Aug. 11-14 at the Otter Creek Golf Club in Otterville.
“It was really good,” Derhodge said of his qualifying round, which included four birdies and an eagle. “I had two doubles (double bogeys) on the front and it was kind of a crazy go there but I got it back.”
Derhodge shot 39 on the front nine and 33 on the back.
“Once I hit the turn, I knew I had a couple of par fives coming up and I knew if I kept playing the way I was, the birdies would come my way,” he said. “On the back nine, those par fives are really getable.”
He eagled the 17th hole and birdied the 18th.
“I was a little bit surprised about how I played,” Derhodge said. “I thought I would feel a little bit different going in because the score actually counted. But I felt pretty confident I could do what I usually do because I was at my own course and I was just playing with some different people.
“I thought it was going to be a regular round and that is all I thought about.”
This is the first time Derhodge has qualified for the Ontario amateur, after tying for 20th in 2017 at the qualifier, tying for 35th in 2018 and tying for 43rd in 2019.
“I had never qualified before and it was so cool to do it this time because I realize how big this event is,” the Saint Michael alumnus said. “It was a great feeling to do that.”
The Grand Niagara member feels it was a combination of being a little overwhelmed by the stage and not quite having the game which resulted in him not qualifying in earlier tries.
“I wasn’t ready, I just needed a little bit more time and I was feeling a little bit of pressure about how big of an event it was.”
His goal for the amateur championship is to make the cut and see what he can do in the final two rounds.
After completing last year’s junior tour, Derhodge played at his home club and then headed to West Palm Beach, Fla., in November to stay with relatives and work on his game.
“I was thinking about going into some competitions but then I decided to come back to Niagara at Christmas,” he said.
He started attending Brock University in January and began hitting balls indoors.
“It was like an off-season because I really felt like I needed one.”
He is hoping to try out for Brock’s golf team but that will have to wait because Ontario University Athletics has cancelled all of its fall sports.
“Right now, my goal is to keep doing better in these higher calibre amateur events, keep building my game and getting higher,” he said. “Hopefully, maybe I can think about turning pro when I feel that I am ready.
“I still think that I need to get more experience in these amateur events, do well and feel that I am ready to move on.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are few tournaments for Derhodge to play in this summer. The only other event on his schedule is the men’s club championship Aug. 1-3 at Grand Niagara.
Other Niagara golfers who will tee it up at the Ontario amateur are Ethan Bennett, Brandon McGregor, Ben MacLean, Hayden Molen, Jonathon Snook, Nolan Piazza, Jake Dupuis. Luke DelGobbo and Freddy D’Angelo.