Christian Zalli Holds Off His Little Brother To Win B.C. Junior Boys Championship

Christian Zalli Defeated Younger Brother Ilirian And Victoria's Keaton Gudz By Two Shots To Win The 2017 B.C. Junior Boys Championship - Image Credit Jurgen Kaminski (JKam Photos)/British Columbia Golf

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

SQUAMISH -- He was proud of himself, but Christian Zalli also couldn’t help feeling a tinge of regret. To win the B.C. Junior Boys Championship at Squamish Valley Golf & Country Club on Friday, Zalli had to beat his little brother Ilirian.

And that wasn’t easy. That it came down to the final hole made it even more difficult. Unfortunately, there are no ties in golf, so when Christian and Ilirian stepped up to the 18th tee late Friday afternoon tied for the lead, you knew one of them was going to walk away disappointed.

Christian won it with a par on the 18th hole after Ilirian air-mailed the green with his approach and could not get it up and down to force a playoff. When it was over, Christian, 18, gave his 15-year-old brother a hug. 

“He is a competitive guy, he's going to be a little bit upset now,” Christian said. “But he will get over it. He's a young kid, he's really good. I told him, don’t worry about it. I don’t want him to feel like it’s the end of the world. He is a very good player. He has a lot of road to go. He is going to be back in this position, maybe even on a bigger stage. I am excited for him. He will realize it on the car ride home. He will be sad and then he will get over it.”

The Zalli brothers, who live in Vancouver and play out of Richmond Country Club, are close and that was evident when they played the final two rounds together at Squamish. They encouraged one another as they walked their way around the course.

Christian began Friday’s final round with a three-shot lead, but that had been cut to a single shot just four holes into the round. Initially, it was Victoria teen Nolan Thoroughgood who made a run at the lead. Christian bogeyed three of his first four holes to fall back to four-under and Thoroughgood, the reigning B.C. Amateur champion, birdied the third hole to move to three-under.

They stayed just one shot apart through six holes, but Thoroughgood played the next five holes seven over par to drop out of contention. Then it was Ilirian’s chance to make a run at his brother. He finally caught him on the par 5 17th, when he made birdie and Christian registered a bogey.

That made for a tense 18th hole. Both players hit solid drives. Christian’s approach landed about 15 feet behind the flag. Then Ilirian stepped up and flew his shot over the back of the green.“It was a sand wedge,” Ilirian said. “I think the wind caught it. It shouldn’t have gone that far.”

Ilirian’s chip then hit a lone tree branch and dropped short of the fringe. He ended up making double-bogey to fall into a tie for second place at two-under par with Victoria’s Keaton Gudz. “I did the best I could, especially on the back nine,” said Ilirian, last year’s B.C. Bantam Boys champion.

“One bad club and that was that. That was the tournament. I feel good for Christian. The only reason I feel a little disappointed is with myself. It’s not that he won the tournament and I lost it. I just feel like I could have given myself a better chance to win it.”

Christian, who just graduated from David Thompson Secondary, won with a 72-hole score of four-under par. He fired a three-over 75 on Friday. It was hardly a masterpiece, but it got the job done. “I have been under quite a bit of stress these last few hours,” a relieved Christian said.

“Winning is always in the back of your mind. I just wanted to not shoot myself in the foot. I had a big lead, I just wanted to stick around. I had a hard front nine but I knew I could bring it back on the back nine as I did yesterday.”

Christian is on his way to UBC this fall, but has no plans to play collegiate golf. Instead, he plans to focus solely on his studies. “I have thought long and hard abut this,” he said. “It's a decision that took a long time to make. I am a good player, but I am not good enough to be a pro. If you're going to go to college to play golf you are expecting to go pro.”

Gudz, the 2014 B.C. Junior champion, fired the low round on what was a very windy day at Squamish -- a three-under 69 -- to grab a share of second place.He will join the Zalli brothers and represent British Columbia at the Canadian Junior Boys Championship, which goes July 31-Aug. 3 in Kingston, Ont. “That was huge for me and it will save my parents a little bit of change, too,” said Gudz, who will begin his collegiate golf career at Oregon State University this fall.

The Zallis are also pumped about the opportunity to represent B.C. at the Canadian championships. “We probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise, so this is going to be a great boost,” Christian said. “It is going to be fun. We have family in Ontario so we'll have a chance to visit them. It's going to be a blast.”

Thoroughgood, who will defend his B.C. Amateur title later this month at Morgan Creek Golf Club in Surrey, finished solo fourth at even-par. Khan Lee of Langley was fifth at two-over par.

CHIP SHOTS: A two-man best-ball competition was held in conjunction with the tournament. The teams of Thoroughgood and Gudz and the Zalli brothers tied at 26-under par. . . Next year’s B.C. Junior Boys Championship will be played at Kamloops Golf & Country Club.

CLICK HERE for complete scoring.