EV golfers take part in Dustin Johnson junior championships - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

EV golfers take part in Dustin Johnson junior championships

March 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
EV golfers take part in Dustin Johnson junior championships
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira
Sports Editor

A pair of East Valley golfers recently had the opportunity to compete on one of the sport’s biggest stages at the junior level.

Chandler resident Johnny Walker and Gilbert resident Anawin Pikulthong, who both attend Hamilton High School, were among golfers invited to compete in the Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championships over the weekend of March 5-7 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Hosted by the top-ranked golfer in the world, the two Hamilton student-athletes competed against some of the top junior golfers in the country and represented Arizona along the way.

“It was definitely a good learning experience,” Walker said. “It was probably one of the strongest fields I’ve ever played in and one of the toughest courses I’ve ever had to play. It was just a good experience to represent Arizona across the country.”

The tournament was yet another milestone in Walker’s young career. As a senior this year, he helped lead Hamilton to its second straight Division I golf championship in the fall. As a junior, he captured the individual state title.

Walker first picked up a club when he was just 7 years old. At the time, he also competed in both baseball and basketball. But as he grew older and began to take golf more seriously than the rest, he decided to focus solely on golf in his high school career.

Walker first played in the championship round for Hamilton as a sophomore, finishing two over par and 15th overall in the field. He helped lead the Huskies to a second-place finish in the tournament in 2018. But he dominated the field as a junior, finishing the championship tournament 10-under to win the individual state title while Hamilton won the team championship.

He followed up a strong junior performance with a seventh-place finish as a senior and yet another team title.

“Playing for Hamilton was a fun experience,” said Walker, who signed to continue his golf career at the University of Arizona. “We were really competitive within our team and all of us had to fight for a spot in the starting lineup. I think that will help me when I move on to college because not everyone has to compete like that in high school.”

Capping off his high school career by competing in the Dustin Johnson tournament was surreal for Walker, who is currently ranked 107th overall in the country for golfers in his graduating class.

And to share the moment with Pikulthong and represent the state and Hamilton together made it more special.

“It was definitely a good bonding moment for us,” Walker said. “We usually only play local stuff together. So, to travel outside of the state to play an individual tournament together was a pretty cool experience.”

Pikulthong, just a sophomore, has already begun to follow in the footsteps of Walker during his Hamilton career.

He finished tied for 12th overall as a freshman at the state golf championships in 2020 and followed it up with a third place finish this past fall as a sophomore behind only Max Lyons of Sandra Day O’Connor and Mahanth Chirravuri, his teammate and individual champion for the 2021 season.

Pikulthong finished 11th overall at the Dustin Johnson event and while he admits it wasn’t his best performance, competing against some of the other top junior golfers has allowed him to see where he can improve ahead of his junior season at Hamilton.

“It was an extremely well-run tournament,” Pikulthong said. “I didn’t play as good as I wanted to but I’m going to take the positives from the event and improve and hope to win it next year.”

Like Walker, Pikulthong began golfing at an early age. He was just 3 years old when he became captivated by watching his father play the game. He enrolled in his first tournament a few years later at a local East Valley course. His love for the game grew from there as he continued watching and playing with his father.

The game came somewhat naturally to Pikulthong, who has won several tournaments and is one of the top golfers in the country and world. He’s currently No. 1 in Arizona for the 2023 class and No. 5 in the world.

“I never thought I was really that good,” Pikulthong said. “I always compared myself to something bigger and set goals for something bigger. My dad always told me to shoot for the stars but if I fail, I can land on the moon.

“If you set really high goals and don’t accomplish them you can still be successful.”

His accolades early on helped him earn a scholarship offer to Arizona State University, where he verbally committed.

Both Pikulthong and Walker, staying in-state to play golf at the next level, have dreamed of walking onto hole No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale during the Waste Management Phoenix Open to roaring crowds of Sun Devil and Wildcat supporters.

In many ways, they want to have the same exhilarating welcome Arizona State alums Phil Mickelson, Chez Reavie and Jon Rahm have received in year’s past at one of the most famous holes on the PGA Tour.

“That’s definitely a tournament I want to play in,” Pikulthong said. “I think it would be unreal. It would be the highlight of my life. I just need to continue working hard and I believe I can get to that point.”