Thayer Plewe shot a tournament personal best score of -8 (64) on Wednesday at the University of New Mexico’s Championship Golf Course to grab the early lead in the Junior PGA National Qualifier.
The Montezuma-Cortez senior shot a bogey-free round with an eagle and six birdies on the rainy day to take a big lead in the 36-hole tournament, where only the top two golfers qualified for PGA Junior Nationals, which will be held at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Palos Park, Illinois, on Aug. 2-5.
“Kind of everything working,” Plewe said. “It was rainy and windy, but it helped that I was able to focus on what was going right for me.”
The next day, Plewe shot a par 72, but actually extended his lead by one stroke to win the tournament by six strokes at -8 (136). Grady Cox, a two-time New Mexico Class 4A state champion at Belen High School, beat Ryan Lewis of El Paso, Texas, in the playoff hole to take the second qualifying spot with a -2, 142.
“Even though it was perfect weather, it was definitely more challenging,” Plewe said about the second day. “Nobody was having their putts drop.”
His mother, Monica Plewe, said he probably had six lip-outs on the second day of the qualifier, including a couple that spun all the way around the hole before rolling back at him.
He had one double bogey and two bogeys early on, but rebounded by sinking a 30-foot chip to eagle hole No. 9 and finish strong. Plewe said he just took the tournament one hole at a time, stuck to his game plan, and his putts eventually started dropping for him.
Zach Griswold (34th, 170) and Ben Ogden (61st, 198) of Durango also competed at UNM, but it was Plewe’s show.
“Obviously it feels great every time you win, especially when you go wire to wire,” Plewe said, adding, “It was awesome to get wins back to back.”
The previous week, Plewe shot a 67 to win the Utah State Amateur Qualifier.
Another cherry on top: Plewe won the national qualifying tournament at his future home course. Plewe verbally committed to play golf for the University of New Mexico Lobos about a month ago.
“The coaches are amazing,” he said. “The course stays in great shape. It’s always been a good program, and a lot of the alumni have gone pro.”
Going pro is also Plewe’s long-term goal.
“My goal out of college is to go pro, and UNM is the best fit to do that,” he said. “That’s the dream and how I see myself getting there.”
Plewe plans to begin school at UNM in 2025 after completing a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The junior national championships will be a four-day tournament with 152 golfers from around the nation. After the first two rounds, the field will be cut to 60 golfers. The field will then be cut in half again for the championship round on Day 4.
“It’s on a great course; Cog has hosted PGA events,” Plewe said. “It will be a very different experience, competing with 150 really good players who have all qualified. Being among the best of the best will be awesome, and I’m super-excited to gain the experience.”
Putting himself in contention to win, he said, is “always” his goal.
Plewe still has one year left to play high school golf for the Panthers, and he wants to finish on top. Plewe finished tied for 13th in the state as a freshman, and the past two seasons, he has been the Class 3A state runner-up. Last season, Plewe sunk a big putt on the final hole to put the pressure on Vail Christian senior Connor Downey, but Downey made his putt to win the championship by a single stroke, 140-139.
Plewe doesn’t want that to happen to him again.
“I’m going to do everything I can not to have a ‘2’ by my name again,” he said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work on my game, and it’s paying off in wins. I’m excited.”
Plewe plans to graduate in December and then begin his mission. By graduating early, he’ll have seven months after his mission to focus on golf before heading to UNM. Plewe’s older siblings, who played Division I college golf at Weber State, Idaho State and Southern Utah State, did their missions in the Czech Republic, a Spanish-speaking part of Seattle and Hungary and Romania. His sister Kiselya, who played for Dolores High School and then Weber State, also qualified for the national championships when she was in high school.
Thayer learned how to play golf by mirroring his older siblings, so they could see him while they were swinging, which is why he golfs left, even though he is right-handed.
Conquistador’s head pro, Micah Rudosky, who played in this year's Senior PGA, has also coached Thayer, as have his parents.
Thayer’s father, Todd Plewe, is his high school coach at M-CHS. His mother also coached high school girls golf, taking her team to the state tournament.
“I coached for years and saw other communities, and ours is just phenomenal,” Monica Plewe said. “This community is so supportive of our junior golfers. They will do absolutely anything to help our youths.”