Jon McLean has less than 130 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame, but with two holes left Thursday in his Canon Club singles match at Caves Valley Golf Club, the lanky 18-year-old was forced to carry the heavy hopes of his entire team.
McLean, from Weston, Fla., was 1 down to Lucas Lee (Torrance, Calif.) in the last of the three-day event's matches. His East team held a precarious half-point lead, and McLean needed to win or tie to give it a victory over the West in the Ryder Cup-style event.
In front of a large gallery that included the rest of the players from both teams and more than a dozen college coaches, McLean sank a twisting five-foot par putt on the 17th hole to pull even. He then matched bogeys with Lee on the 18th to halve the match and give the East a 25.5-24.5 victory. Had McLean lost his match, the teams would have finished tied, and the West, which had won the event the last three years, would have kept the Cup. With the victory, the East improved its overall record in the event to 8-6-1.
"Matt [Cuccaro, the East team's captain] came up to me [Wednesday] night and said, 'Do you feel comfortable being in one of the last few groups?' And I said, 'Yeah, I can do it,' " McLean said. "It was fun, but the most pressure I've ever felt. Definitely."
Much like the Ryder Cup does for the top professional players in United States and Europe, the Canon Cup puts the top junior players from the East and West (divided by the Mississippi River, 10 girls and 10 boys on each team) under more pressure than they are used to feeling -- even in high-profile national tournaments. That was evident Thursday as McLean and Lee both struggled to bogeys on the stressful 18th.
"They know the whole week's riding on their shoulders," said Ohio State women's golf coach Therese Hession. "It comes down to one putt, so I'm sure it's tough."
The only area player in the event, Northeast rising senior Stephanie Connelly, went 2-2 for the East. The three-time All-Met, who has committed to Ohio State, won both her doubles matches Wednesday to help the East climb back from a four-point deficit. In her afternoon match Wednesday, Connelly drained several key putts, including a 10-foot par-saver on No. 18 that secured a 1-up victory.