Jaden Soong was sitting on a hill next to the 18th green with his friends and family watching everything unfold. He had already finished his second and final round of the SoCal Boys Junior Amateur Championship with a crucial par to retain his share of the lead at two-under.
Now, it was a waiting game to see if anyone else was going to join him in a playoff. In the group behind him, Will Tanaka and Eli Geddy were also sitting at two-under as they sized up their approach shots on the fairway of the 407-yard par-4 18th. Geddy overshot the green, but executed an impressive up and down to save par, punctuated with a fist pump after his 10-foot putt snuck into the back of the cup, to advance to extra holes. Tanaka had a slightly less stressful journey to par as his approach landed on the bottom tier of the green in front of the flag, and he two-putted uphill to set up a three-way playoff between Soong, Geddy and Tanaka.
Going back to the 18th tee box as the sun was on the verge of setting, all three hammered their drives to the left side of the fairway, avoiding a set of bunkers that were planted dead straight. Tanaka and Geddy's approach shots landed practically next to each other on the green, very similar to the landing spot of Tanaka’s approach on No. 18 in regulation. Soong was a couple feet closer, though still on the bottom tier looking at a long left to right uphill putt of about 25 feet for birdie.
Tanaka and Geddy left their birdie putts short, within ten feet. Soong nearly had the perfect read as his first putt burned the right edge of the cup, settling less than two feet from the hole. Soong tapped in for par, putting the pressure on Tanaka and Geddy to convert and send the playoff to a second hole. Geddy lipped out, while Tanaka just missed to the left, and as the three players were approaching their seventh hour on the course that day, a champion had finally been decided.
“It’s so exciting and it’s just a really proud moment for me,” Soong said. “I’ve been working really hard on my whole game…so just knowing that all my work has paid off and winning this is incredible because you’re playing against some of the best juniors so it’s awesome.”
Soong was threatening the top of the leaderboard from the start of the championship on Saturday. Despite threats of inclement weather throughout the weekend, the first day brought great scoring conditions. Soong shot a 68, his only mistake being a bogey on the final hole. That put him one stroke off the lead, which Geddy and Tanaka occupied at five-under.
“The first day I felt like my putting was really good,” Soong said. “The greens were a little bumpy but I was still able to maintain good strokes and I was rolling it really well.”
As heavy wind gusts became prevalent on the second day, Soong had sensed the scoring opportunities were going to be less fruitful. After a bogey on No. 4, he responded with two birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 to grab the solo lead at five-under. Soong would retain his lead at the top through most of the round despite a bogey on 14 that brought him back to four-under.
Holding a two-stroke lead as he approached the par-3 17th, Soong uncharacteristically carded a double-bogey, which opened the door for Tanaka and Geddy to get back into the mix.
“That was rough,” Soong said.
But a par on his final hole of regulation kept Soong in the fight, eventually leading to the one-hole playoff where he was the last man standing.
“I think today, conditions were really hard so it was a struggle,” Soong said. “I’ve been working a lot on my mental game with my coach, Rick Sessinghaus, so knowing what I can do to maintain a steady head and not get too upset or too happy.”
The win comes months after Soong was one step away from qualifying for the U.S. Open at just 13 years old. He advanced to the final qualifying stage after earning a spot (in a playoff) at local qualifying at Brentwood CC. Now, he’s a champion amongst the best juniors in Southern California in a championship historically won by upcoming high school graduates.
Soong has also earned exemption into both the 2024 SCGA Amateur and California Amateur championships. He finished T27 in the 2023 SCGA Amateur, but the 2024 California Amateur Championship at Sherwood CC will be his first appearance amongst the best amateurs in the state - at 14 years old.
“That’s really cool, I’m looking forward to that.”