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VOL. 133 | NO. 145 | Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Legacy Of High School Golf Star Continues At ‘The Bubba’

Pete Wickham

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Thirty-eight years ago, Larry Conlee started a golf tournament to remember a son he had just lost.

Stacy Heck will never forget what the tournament, known now simply as “The Bubba,” has done for her daughters. Which is why she will be out at Quail Ridge Golf Course in Bartlett all next week, along with the other board members and volunteers who keep the event rolling four years after Larry’s death.

“I think at first we were a bit afraid for this tournament, because it is so heavily dependent on volunteers and sponsors Larry brought to the event,” said Heck, who has been on the board since 2014. “When Larry passed, you wondered if support would wane. But it hasn’t.”

The country’s top junior golfers know they have to bring their “A game” to Bartlett to have a shot at winning top honors in “The Bubba.” (Submitted)

Bubba Conlee, a star high school golfer, lost his life in a car-train accident in 1981, and a grieving father thought a junior tournament would be a good one-time memorial for his son.

It has grown into a solid event that draws a quality field that this year draws 138 boys and 47 girls from 28 states and a half-dozen foreign countries.

Nearly 40 are in the Top 200 of the Rolex American Junior Golf Association ratings, topped by the No. 34 Hannah Levi of D’Iberville, Mississippi, and defending girls champ Rachel Kuehn of Asheville, North Carolina., the No. 39 player. Last year’s boys champ, Stephen Sul of Old Bridge, New Jersey (172) is also back seeking to join a list of six golfers who have multiple Bubba titles. The last, Braden Thornberry of Olive Branch, went on to win an NCAA title at Ole Miss in 2017 and has been the top-ranked amateur in the world.

Heck’s first two daughters, Abby and Rachel, won back-to-back Bubba titles in 2015 and 2016.

For Rachel, a two-time state champion at St. Agnes who played in last year’s U.S Women’s Open and has been committed to Stanford since she was a freshman, it was a nice line on the resume.


What: 38th Bubba Conlee Golf Tournament

When: Tuesday-Thursday July 24-26

Where: Quail Ridge Golf Course, Bartlett (Par 70)

Field: 138 Boys, 47 Girls, ages 11-19, from 28 states, 7 foreign countries.

Further information: thebubba.org


(AJGA Rankings, as of July 10)


51. George Duangmanee (2020), Fairfax VA

53. Tyler Isenhart (2019), Geneva IL

65. Bo Jin (2020), Encinitas CA (CHINA)

70. Austyn Reily (2019), Pottsboro TX

74. Austin Coggin (2019), Vestavia Hills AL

76. Andrew Goodman (2021), Norman OK

83. Reynolds Lambert (2019), Birmingham AL

97. Carson Bacha (2020), York PA

104. Blake Wheeler (2019), Fort Myers FL

128. Garrett Engle (2021), Harrisburg PA

132. Jay Nimmo (2021), Benton KY

134. Manning Sloop (2020), Rock Hill SC

138. Matthew Griggs (2021), Prosper TX

142. Aiden Kramer (2020), Oviedo FL

178. Drew Miller (2020), Arlington TN

172. Stephen Sul (2019), Old Bridge NJ (2017 Champ)

174. Takafumi Shimoji (2019), Suwanee GA (JAPAN)

181. Phillip Choi (2019), Corinth TX

185. Garrett Tighe (2019), Algonquin IL

189. Evan Woosley-Reed (2022), Shelbyville TN


36. Hannah Levi (2018), D’Iberville MS

39. Rachel Kuehn (2019), Asheville NC (2017 Champ)

49. Lynn Lim (2022), Gallatin TN

54. Britta Snyder (2020), Ames IA

57. Katie Yoo (2020), Orlando FL

60. Haeley Wotnosky (2018), Wake Forest NC

63. Jensen Castle (2019), W. Columbia SC

68. Jairui (Joyce) Jin (2021), Encinitas CA (CHINA)

92. Jinyu Wu (2020), Bradenton FL (CHINA)

94. Taylor Kehoe (2022), Strathroy Ont (CANADA)

103. Elina Sinz (2020) Katy TX

113. Lexanne Halama (2021), Knoxville TN

120. Mikayla Bardwell (2018), Lewisville TX (2017 R/Up)

122. Izzy M. Pellot (2022), Altamonte Springs FL

125. Camille Boyd (2020), Yorba Linda CA

133. Esther Park (2019), Wilmington DE

148. Katie Hallinan (2018), Loveland OH (2017 5th)

153. Meiyi Yan (2019), Windermere FL (CHINA)

154. Sophie Zhang-Murphy (2022), Mountain View CA

160. Megan Furtney (2019), S. Elgin IL

171. Abbey Daniel (2019), Covington LA

175. Jayna Choi (2019), Collierville TN (2014 Champ)

176. Baili Park (2018), Collierville TN


BOYS: Zach Bailey, Briarcrest; Walker Crosby, MUS; Davis Irving, St. George’s; Winston Margaritis, St. Georges; Eli Maxwell, Christian Brothers; Drew Miller, Briarcrest (State Div. 2-AA champion); Garrett Underhill, Bartlett; Russell Williamson Jr., Briarcrest; Phillip Wunderlich, MUS.

GIRLS: Jayna Choi (Houston); Susan Morris (Hutchison); Baili Park (Houston); Megan Tang (St. Mary’s)


BOYS: Braden Thornberry, Olive Branch (Ole Miss) 2013, 2015; Will Dottley, Greenville, Miss. (North Carolina) 2002, 2003.

GIRLS: Summar Roachell, Conway, Ark. (Arkansas) 2011, 2012; Reilly Rankin, Beaufort, S.C. (Georgia) 1996, 1997; Anne Cain, Springfield, Mo. (Georgia) 1985, 1986; Ginger Brown, Hope, Ark. (Texas) 1983, 1984.

Note: Defending champions Stephen Sul and Rachel Kuehn and 2014 girls champion Jayna Choi are among this year’s entries.

Abby’s win, however, was life-changing according to her mother.

“Abby was a good golfer, but didn’t have that signature win college coaches look for,” said Stacy, who ‘scouts’ potential Bubba entrants while she travels around the country with her golfing daughters, including youngest child Anna, an eighth-grader.

“Then she breaks through in this tournament, and three months later she gets an offer from Notre Dame, which was her dream school.”

Abby is on the Irish squad while majoring in math and life science. Rachel, second on the current Rolex-AJGA rankings, will compete in the Wyndham East-West Cup tournament this week in Boston.

“This is not the highest-level event on the junior circuit,” Stacy Heck said, “but it attracts solid Top 200 kids, who are looking for points to bolster their ranking and attract offers from D1 colleges. There are a lot of good D1 quality players who will be here this week.”

Larry Conlee also used it as a chance to give exposure to area golfers. “He loved the local kids. Gave them exemptions or spots when out-of-town competitors would withdraw,” Heck said. “Now there’s a local qualifier that gives them an opportunity as well.”

Two local coaches, Bill Cochran of Rhodes College and Michael Brice of Christian Brothers University, are on the board. University of Memphis women’s coach Beth Walthall Harrison, will be among a couple dozen coaches who will be here to check out talent.

“It’s always a pleasure to have a week where you get a chance to check out a strong group of potential recruits and not have to travel of sleep in some hotel,” said Harrison, who said she has also used this event as a bit of an orientation week for out-of-town recruits in the past.

“If we had incoming freshmen who had not passed the age limit, we’d have them come in and play this tournament,” she said. “It was a chance to let them come to Memphis, and give us some time together.”

She said the tournament has “a strong reputation nationally and has a strong base of volunteers, who were drawn to the event by Larry. His personality was so big some of these kids still remember him.”

Quail Ridge general manager Brian Alexander has seen The Bubba’s touch for a dozen years.

“Larry and now the board and volunteers do a great job taking care of these kids and their parents. They feed them every night (catfish and steak dinners and a bratwurst lunch on getaway day). There’s a players’ room with snacks, water, Gatorade. From a parents’ standpoint it’s a great tournament in that they’re not nickeled and dimed. They appreciate that.”

He said “We’ve had it here so long that everybody on my staff and the volunteers know what we have to do and things fall into place. Many of them are regulars here at the course who enjoy watching the kids play.”

Chris Conlee has been the board chairman since his father’s death. “He wanted to make sure there is a family presence supporting the event,” Stacy Heck said.

It’s been a turbulent few months for Conlee, who resigned his position as pastor of Highpoint Church this past week in the wake of a 20-year-old sexual abuse scandal in Texas involving the church’s former teaching pastor. Conlee did not return calls about the tournament made by the Daily News.

Heck said “Obviously we don’t know what the future might hold, but we have a strong group of volunteers and leadership that will get this tournament through the years.”

Alexander said, “The board’s been together five, six years. The volunteer base is solid. The event kind of runs itself now.”

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