Confident Zalli Not Content With Share Of Halfway Lead At B.C. Junior Boys Championship

A Very Confident Ilirian Zalli Goes Into Round Three Of The B.C. Junior Boys Championship Tied For The Lead With Khan Lee - Image Credit Jurgen Kaminski (JKam Photos)/British Columbia Golf

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

KAMLOOPS -- Ilirian Zalli is tied for the lead halfway through the B.C. Junior Boys Championship, but that wasn’t much consolation after letting what he felt could have been a great round slip away.

Zalli played his first nine holes in four-under par before stumbling slightly on the back nine en route to a three-under 69 that left him at seven-under par through 36 holes. He is tied with Langley’s Khan Lee, who shot the day’s best score, a five-under 67.

“I played what I feel is the harder nine four-under and I shot one-over on the easier nine,” the 16-year-old Zalli said. “It was really frustrating. I had about five putts of 15 feet or less on the back nine and only one of them went in. It was just a frustrating way to end the round.

“I just really wanted to be the individual leader, but whatever. I’ve got two more rounds. At least I picked up some spots.”

If you are thinking Zalli has some high expectations of himself, you would be right. The Vancouver resident, who just finished Grade 10 at David Thompson Secondary, came to Kamloops Golf & Country Club oozing with confidence. He recently qualified for the U.S. Junior Boys Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey and has been dominating his zone’s junior events.

“I think I could have gone lower,” he said. “I definitely feel like my best round is still out there. I know that sounds crazy. The first two rounds have been good, but they haven’t been excellent like I think I have in me. It will be an interesting next two days.”

While Zalli was upset with his finish, the 18-year-old Lee was pleased to shoot his way to the top of the leaderboard. “I was happy to shoot a good round today,” said Lee, who just finished his freshman year at Washington State University.

image credit Jurgen Kaminski (JKam Photos)/British Columbia Golf

Langley's Khan Lee, The 2017 B.C. Juvenile Boys Champion, Shares The Lead In This Year's B.C. Junior Boys' After Two Rounds

“I wanted to get back into the tournament and I think I did that. I played much better today. A lot of these holes are driver-wedge for me and I was hitting it close. I shot 67 but it could have been quite a bit lower. I had a lot of good chances.”

The highlight of Zalli’s round came on the par 5 sixth hole, where he holed a 30-yard bunker shot for an eagle. “That was good,” he said. “The thing is I had a lot of momentum. Then I made only one birdie coming in. I hit maybe seven greens and both times I missed the green, unfortunately I made bogey.”

Zalli won the 2016 Bantam Boys Championship and last year almost won the B.C. Junior at Squamish Valley Golf Club, where he finished tied for second behind his older brother Christian.

He has drawn the bad side of the draw both days this week. In Tuesday’s first round, he teed off in the morning half of the draw when the wind was up. And on Wednesday he played in the last group out in the afternoon and the wind blew hard again. 

“Both days my part of the draw had wind and the other part of the draw had no wind,” he said. “That’s rough. But at least I know that when I am plying in the final group tomorrow it will be the same conditions for everyone. Maybe I am playing better than everyone else. We’ll see.”

First-round leader Michael Crisologo of Richmond looked like he might run way from the field early in his round Wednesday, but then had to endure a rough back nine. Crisologo played his front nine four-under par to get to 10-under for the tournament, but was five-over on the back side.

He sits at five-under par through two rounds and is in a three-way tie for fifth place with Zach Ryujin of North Vancouver and Henry Lei of Surrey. Joel Veenstra of Smithers and Song Bai of Vancouver are tied for third at six-under. “I made a lot of birdies on the front and on the back nine I struggled,” Crisologo said. “Just everything was falling apart. I just lost my confidence over the ball and had trouble making good swings.”

Veenstra shot his second straight three-under 69 and likes where he sits with two rounds to play. “My goal going into the tournament was to shoot four rounds in the 60s,” said Veenstra, who will be joining older brother Adam at the University of Idaho this fall.

“I’ll go for that again tomorrow and see where that puts me and if I need to shoot a low one for the fourth round I’ll maybe change my game plan up a little bit. But I think if I shoot another round in the 60s I will be in a great position.”

Click HERE for complete scoring from the B.C. Junior Boys Championship

CHIP SHOTS: The cut to the low 70 and ties after Wednesday’s second round came at 12-over par. . .The top three players after Friday’s final round will represent B.C. at the Canadian Junior Boys Championship, which goes July 30-Aug. 2 in Medicine Hat, Alta. . .The team from Zone 4, which includes Delta, Greater Vancouver, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast, consisting of Zalli, Jace Minni (Beach Grove GC), Dustin Franko (Beach Grove GC) and Keith Ng (Mayfair Lakes GC), won the tournament’s two-day zone competition with a 36-hole score of two-under par. . .The leaders tee off at 10 a.m. Thursday.