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When Glasgow golfer Randy Southern grabbed the first-round lead last month at the Montana State Juniors Championships in Great Falls, the whispering soon followed.

“I heard a few kids saying ‘Who’s Randy Southern,’ ” observed the 17-year-old Southern. “I kind of like that. There’s nothing too bad about it.”

Especially since the “mystery man,” who has been playing golf for just five years, went on to finish third at state and qualify for the Junior Boys America’s Cup competition set for July 31-Aug. 2 at Yellowstone Country Club in Billings.

Famous alumniIn the 29-year history of the prestigious tournament, golfers with names like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Craig Stadler and Fred Couples have offered glimpses of future stardom.

Now it’s Southern’s turn to wow the galleries – and perhaps a college coach or two.

“My goal has always been to qualify for this,” he said of the Junior America’s Cup. “I’m happy where I’m at and I’m just looking to have some fun.”

Seventeen, four-member teams will be participating over the challenging YCC spread, with squads from Mexico and two western Canadian provinces adding a dash of international intrigue. The golfers are generally between the ages of 14 and 17.

Montana, which has fielded an America’s Cup team since 1976, and Wyoming, which has put together its first team in 2001, will also be part of the three days of team (stroke play) competition. Most of the teams from the Western U.S. qualified through state juniors tournaments.

‘Eye-opening’ event“I just think that it’s such an excellent opportunity for all the golfers on the West Coast to get together and just to see how good the talent is,” said Woody Hahn of Billings, captain of the Montana team. “I think our Montana kids, year-in and year-out, really get their eyes opened.”

Montana’s highest finish was eighth at Ogden, Utah, in 1988. California golfers – from either the northern or southern part of the state – have topped the competition 18 times.

Spectators are welcome on Yellowstone’s par-72, 6,690-yard course.

“I think they’ll be totally amazed at the caliber of play of these kids,” said Hahn. “There are certainly exceptional ones and then there’s some average players. I think if they followed the top four teams on the last day, they’d see tremendous golf.”

There will be a practice round on Monday, July 30, followed by three days of team competition. Each team’s top three scores count toward each day’s total.

“I’ve been taking teams for 17 years,” noted Hahn. “I’ve never had a Montana kid yet that didn’t count one day, which is fun.”

Southern – perhaps better known as a starting guard on the Scotties’ basketball team – didn’t play high school golf this spring because Glasgow doesn’t have a team. At the qualifying tournament for the state juniors, he limped around the Sidney course on an ankle injured in a pick-up basketball game.

He shot an 87 (49-38), tied for the fourth and final qualifying berth – and then won a three-player playoff to make state.

“I snuck in,” he said.

Southern is no stranger at Sunnyside Golf Club in Glasgow. In the past, his mother Brenda has dropped him off at the golf course on her way to work and picked him up on the way home.

“He’s a mystery to us,” said Hahn. “But he can play. He had two great rounds in Great Falls.”

State juniors champion Adam Hober of Missoula heads a Montana team that includes Renzi Lee of Billings, Casey Keyser of Kalispell and Southern.

Lee will be making his third appearance in America’s Cup play. Hober will be coming to Billings fresh from the U.S. Junior Amateur in Texas.

“I think we have a nice team,” Hahn said. “All of them are consistently around par or better on their home courses. I think it could be a nice team for us.”

Wyoming’s first team will be comprised of Andy Kaman of Lusk, Nicholas Larson of Riverton, Chris Manning of Cody and Adam Mrak of Pinedale.

Billings is serving as the host city for the teenage golfers for the first time since 1987. The event was held at Sahalee Country Club in Redmond, Wash., last year.

“It’s a great venue for this,” Hahn said of the Yellowstone layout. “I would put our course up against any that you see on the list (of previous host clubs).

Hahn watched Tiger in action at the 1990 Junior America’s Cup competition in Yorba Linda, Calif.

“He was just a little boy. He was 14,” said Hahn. “It was tremendous. Basically when you see kids like that it’s obvious that they’re going to be good. Prior to Tiger, the ones that were most impressive to me were Billy Mayfair of Arizona and, of course, Phil Mickelson of San Diego.”

When the America’s Cup was held at Yellowstone in 1987, one of the participants was Paul Stankowski, a 17-year-old Californian. He has gone on to win two PGA events and pocket $3.5 million in Tour winnings since 1994.

For the 63-year-old Hahn, this will be his swan song as Montana captain. This will be his 18th and final year, with his son, Mark, included among past players.

“Certainly it’s been a great experience,” said Hahn. “I think there will be a lot of sadness in the goodbyes.”

Bill Bighaus can be reached at 657-1394 or bbighaus@billingsgazette.com

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