By JORDAN BOITNOTT
Four standouts from the ‘Joe’ Dickey Electric Greatest Golfer Junior series will take their golf to the next level this fall as they tackle the college ranks. Playing in Greatest helped players gain college exposure last summer and played a part in finding the next step in their golf careers.
Hickory High’s McKenzie Gustas, McDonald’s Michael Porter, Boardman’s Ryan Sam and Beaver Local’s Luke Eyster have college and college golf on their agendas next fall.
Gustas committed to Saint Francis University (Division 1) in Loretto, Pa. The Red Flash play in the Northeast Conference including sites like Long Island University, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Merrimack College.
Gustas said playing in Greatest played a big part in her game and helped reach her dream of playing Division I golf. She won the u17 Girls division in 2020 and 2021.
“Greatest was a good chance to play a bunch of different golf courses and learn different skills; it was better than a normal league because you played a different course every week,” she said. “Squaw Creek and Avalon Lakes are a lot longer than a typical high school course that we play, and in college, the biggest difference is the distance. So, I would say playing those courses helped me out.”
Gustas should have no issues at the next level since she’s played a lot of high-stakes golf between high school and Greatest. She won a team state championship with Hickory this past season. Gustas appeared at the state championship every season of her high school career. She also won the Greatest junior tournament twice. Gustas believes the key to her success comes from being able to relax and decompress during the offseason.
“During the season, I play almost every single day. When it’s over, I like to give myself some time off. I’ll still play on Saturdays in an indoor league. But during the winter, I like to take a couple of months off. I think it’s important to give yourself some time off to help mentally.”
Gustas loved being able to choose her caddy during Greatest Golfer since that isn’t something you get to experience anywhere else at the high school level.
“I was able to have my sister as my caddy and that was just a good bonding experience. I know that a lot of the other girls had a good time with that too, whether they had their dad or their coach caddy. So I think that was the highlight of Greatest.
Eyster, of Beaver Local High School, will be taking his talents to Notre Dame College (Division II) in South Euclid, Ohio. He was considered a top-five player in Greatest Juniors and has high aspirations for his time at Notre Dame. They compete in the Mountain East Conference against schools like West Liberty University and Frostburg State University. At Notre Dame, he’ll see familiar Greatest faces there in Tyler Andersen (Columbiana), Alex Rapp (Poland) and Jimmy Graham (Warren JFK).
“The first year, I want to play in some tournaments and learn as much as I can from the coaches and other players and evolve from there. Hopefully, down the line, I’d like to win a conference championship or national championship.”
Eyster also said he has big goals for his career after college:
“I plan on turning pro. Whether that’s teaching or playing on the mini-tours – I plan on turning pro.”
When asked what he would do to keep evolving his game, Eyster emphatically talked about Greatest Adults.
“I will for sure be moving up to Greatest Adults. It’s just too good of competition and it’s so close to home. I can’t pass up Greatest, but I will also be trying to qualify for the US amateur tournament.”
Eyster said he will always cherish his time in junior Greatest. He will always think fondly of when he won his first tournament.
“Everything was going in my direction all day long. On the 15th hole, some controversy happened. I just remember telling myself, ‘I’m not losing this tournament, I’m winning this tournament no matter what’ And with that mentality and those key clutch moments, I still think about it to this day. That was a big, big thing for me.”
Sam and Porter battled this summer in Greatest junior championships going back and forth on the course with Porter ultimately winning the tournament and Sam coming in second. The on-course rivals will now be teammates at Youngstown State University (Division 1).
Porter, of McDonald High School, also won the u17 title in 2020 and 2021 like Gustas. He talked about Sam and how they bring out the best in each other on the course.
“Ryan (Sam) and I are cool. We’re good friends. We played a lot of matches together and it can get competitive at times. But you have to love the competition. Ryan’s a great golfer and I can’t wait to play with him in college.”
Porter shot a 64 last summer, which is a career-best for him and a record for Greatest juniors.
“Back-to-back titles in the 17-under division was pretty cool. The 64 is something I still haven’t been able to repeat any time ever. I’ve shot a 68 twice, but never a 64, so that was probably my favorite moment of Greatest.”
At YSU, they will have plenty of Greatest pals as the roster boasts Greatest alums Ken Keller (Mooney), Bryan Kordupel (Boardman), Cole Christman (Boardman), Brian Terlesky (Boardman), Dean Austalosh (Campbell), Cade Kreps (Boardman) and Jake Sylak (Mineral Ridge).
Porter said playing at YSU has been a dream of his.
“This is a really exciting opportunity for me because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. When I was growing up, it was my dream to play there. When they gave me the chance, I couldn’t pass it up.”
Porter said other schools were looking at him, but he was just waiting for YSU to get into the fold. Once YSU sent an offer, he didn’t pay attention to any of the others.
Sam, from Boardman High School, is also excited to be golfing at YSU.
“They have a great schedule. YSU plays some higher-end teams from the SEC. They also play a tournament in New York — LSU, Missouri and Duke will all be there. The competition alone will help me improve my game, and that’s what I’m looking for while also being able to stay at home.”
His favorite memories of the Greatest season were playing against Porter.
“Battling back and forth for the championship, and seeing each other on the live leaderboard making birdie after birdie all day was great,” said Sam. “Even though I couldn’t get it done, I will remember that for the rest of my life.”
Sam said the Greatest community has become like a second family to him.
“We are a family. All the golfers involved grew closer tournament in and tournament out. We just grew and grew and grew, we split up for our high school season, then came back together, and everyone is serious about their games in the summer. The Greatest family has a soft spot in my heart.”