Most Yellowstone County golf fans are now pretty familiar with Brandon McIver, who achieved a monumental feat recently by competing at the U.S. Open in North Carolina.
What they might not know is that McIver, 20, isn’t that many years removed from the junior program in the Billings area, where there’s another young golf sensation shooting to follow in his footsteps.
His name is Joey Moore, and the 14-year-old from Billings will be competing at the annual Montana State Golf Association State Junior Championships on Monday and Tuesday at Laurel Golf Club.
“It motivates me a ton,” he said of McIver’s climb from the local junior ranks, which includes receiving a golf scholarship to Oregon and making an appearance at the U.S. Open. “I’ve always kind of wanted to play like him.”
The long-hitting Moore is certainly taking the proper course. He has won the 13-under age division at state the past two years, but will be in the 14-15 category this time around.
“I’m pretty excited to go play with older kids,” he said. “My mindset is to still just go play the best golf I can.”
Moore, who turned 14 on April 14 and will be a freshman at Billings West in the fall, has literally grown up in the local junior programs.
He stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 155 pounds. By his own estimation, Moore said he has grown about six inches and added about 20 pounds of mostly muscle over the past two years.
“It makes me hit the ball a little bit further,” he said of his timely growth spurt.
The 36-hole State Juniors is also coming at a pretty good time for Moore, who recently won the 12-14 age group at a PGA Junior Series event at ArborLinks in Nebraska City, Neb., with a two-over par 218.
He has been playing regularly since age 7. “This is probably the best golf I’ve played in maybe my whole life,” he noted.
“Joey is a great player,” said 16-year-old state junior champion Sean Benson of Billings, who also competed at the Nebraska tournament. “He’s long off the tee. He’s got a good short game, and he’s got a good iron game.
“There has been a couple of times where he’ll hit a bad shot and he’ll just be a little mad at himself, be a little down,” Benson said. “But that comes with age. He’ll get more mature and level his head out. That happened with me, too.”
Last summer, while making his debut at the Montana State Amateur at Green Meadow Country Club in Helena, Moore finished in a tie for 21st place at 13-over 297 (73-73-74-77).
McIver, then 19, won his first State Amateur title at 14-under 270, but he also took a moment to recognize Moore’s remarkable accomplishment.
“He said, ‘Wow, that’s pretty solid for 13,’” Moore recalled of their brief conversation.
One of Moore’s goals at West is to aim for McIver’s records, which include three individual and three state team championships.
For now, though, his attention is focused on the State Juniors.
“That’s what my goal is — try to win out,” Moore said of maintaining his winning streak at state. “But if that doesn’t happen, I don’t want to give it away. I want to make them earn it.”
A competitor in football, wrestling, basketball and track last year at Riverside Middle School, Moore said his favorite sport is golf, where he is capable of drives covering 340 to 350 yards.
“I’m not really worried about distance,” he said. “I’m more focused on accuracy.”
Moore’s father, Tim, is a former assistant pro at Laurel Golf Club. As a PGA cardholder, he currently teaches, provides club fittings and video lessons at Mitchell Golf in Billings.
“He knows a lot about golf, so I try to get as much information from him as I can,” Moore said of his father. “But we’re still father and son, so we argue.”
One of the events on Moore’s busy golf calendar this summer is the San Diego Junior Masters in early July.
“Leslie Spalding actually told me to go play in it,” Moore said of another Billings great. “I’m super excited for that. I mean, it’s not just about the golfing. It’s getting to go places because of golf. It’s so great to have these opportunities.”
NOTES: The MSGA State Juniors tournament dates back to 1967. ... Tee times begin at 7:15 a.m. on Monday. ... Ninety-five players are entered. ... Benson is also jumping up an age division to 16-17 after ruling over the 14-15 age group last year. “I have a lot of confidence in my game right now,” he said. So does 17-year-old Hannah Zwemke, who starred on Billings West’s State AA title team last year as a junior. She was third at the State Juniors in 2013 in the 16-17 division. “I’m feeling pretty good about my game,” Zwemke said. “There’s definitely a couple of improvements around the greens that I can make for next week. Having played Laurel before and being a little more familiar with the course, I think it will set up pretty nice for me.” ... Home-course advantage, however, should go to Laurel’s O’Neil siblings: Morgan, 16, and her younger brother Paul, 13. Paul, who will be in eighth grade this fall, and Morgan, who will be a junior in high school, have grown up playing at Laurel Golf Club.