Mighty Max! 14-year-old makes history winning Michigan Junior Amateur

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Movin' on up, indeed.

Max VanderMolen won the 15-and-younger bracket of the Michigan Junior State Amateur last year, so this year he opted to challenge himself by moving up into the top division. 

On Thursday, VanderMolen won that, too, defeating Josh Lavely in a 21-hole championship match on the Sundance course at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort in Kewadin in northern Michigan. Lavely is the son of Larry Lavely, A-Ga-Ming's head golf professional.

Max VanderMolen won the Michigan Junior State Amateur on Thursday in northern Michigan.

At 14, VanderMolen becomes the youngest winner of the Michigan State Junior Amateur, run by the Golf Association of Michigan, and in its 44th year.

“I played up (in age division) because you know, I won last year, and I felt like I had already proved myself,” VanderMolen, of Richland, which is northeast of Kalamazoo, told reporters afterward. “So I was like, let’s give it ago. I knew it was going to be tougher with the state’s top players here. I mean, this means a lot to beat some great players like Josh and be the champion.”

On the 21st hole, the third sudden-death playoff hole, VanderMolen hit a 5 iron on the par-3 third hole to 8 feet, and two-putted for par. Lavely overshot the green and made a bogey.

VanderMolen is the first player in Michigan Junior State Amateur history to win the 15-and-younger bracket one year, and follow it up with a title in the top division the next year.

He won the 15-and-younger bracket at TPC Michigan in Dearborn in 2021.

Lavely, won won the 2020 Michigan PGA Junior championship and will play at Villanova in the fall, was definitely the crowd favorite Thursday, given his family ties to the community.

“I got a lot of support from my family and friends here and it was nice having everyone out there watching me, rooting me on,” he told reporters. “You know, in the end I gave it my all, and you know Max is a great player and he hit a lot of great shots under pressure at the end.”

For VanderMolen, he is used to being the first at something. At 10, he was the youngest player to qualify for the Michigan Junior State Amateur. At 13, he was the youngest player ever to make the 36-hole cut at the Michigan Open. At 11, he finished second at the National Drive, Chip & Putt at Augusta National.

All that helped ease the nerves Thursday, especially when he was trailing late in the match.

At the 17th hole, he hit a 7 iron to 4 feet for a birdie to square the match.

“My irons were great all week,” he said. “I work on them the most, they are my favorite thing to work on and some people might be critical of that, but it paid off for me this week because I’m confident with them. I hit some great iron shots to win a lot of tough matches.”

In the morning semifinals, VanderMolen beat Justin Sui, of Lake Orion, 2-up, while Lavely held off Peter Stassinopoulos, of Novi, 3 and 2.

In the 15-and-younger bracket this year, Leandro Pinili, 15, of Rochester Hills, beat Isaac Scavarda, of Kalamazoo, 5 and 4, in the championship match. Pinili will be a sophomore at Birmingham Brother Rice.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984