KANKAKEE - Another year, another championship.
Jake Nietfeldt shot a 78 and defeated 12 other golfers in the 16 to 18-year-old division at the Jim Marek Memorial Junior Amateur Golf Tournament, Wednesday at the Kankakee Country Club.
Nietfeldt's win in the 35th annual event was his third overall.
"This one is not much different from the other two times I've won," Nietfeldt said. "But it was extremely nice to win this one since this is my final time playing in this outing."
Although he normally golfs at the Green Garden Country Club in Frankfort, he said he appreciates the chance to compete on KCC's greens.
"It's really nice out here," Nietfeldt said. "The course is really nice and the greens are very smooth. I like competing in the tournament because competition only makes you better and the lessons you learn while playing make you better."
Nietfeldt, 18, recently graduated from Peotone High School and will golf at the collegiate level at Purdue University Northwest this fall.
He wasn't the only one returning to the mountain top, though.
After not competing in the tournament last year, Melanie Smith returned to Kankakee and won the girls 15 to 18-year-old division, defeating five other girls with a score of 82.
The El Paso, Texas native visited her grandparents previously in 2015 and won the tournament then.
Smith, 16, plays year-round at Loretto Academy back in Texas with her father, Mike Smith, who is also a PGA professional.
Smith is hopeful that all her years of hard work on the course are rewarded in a big way in the near future.
"I hope to get a golf scholarship from a D1 school," Smith said. "I'll keep practicing, keep playing in tournaments like these and putting myself out there."
In the boys 10 to 12-year-old division, Joey Charleston, 10, also repeated as champion for the second straight year, shooting a 45 in 9 holes.
Other winners included Leaha Voss, who shot a 79 to beat Victoria Moran's 86 in the girls 14-and-under division.
Luke Petrovic took home first place in the boys 13 to 15-year-old division by one stroke as his 85 hung on to top an 86 shot by Ryan Dulin, and an 88 from Cameron Barragree.
Kevin Fitzgerald, the Kankakee Country Club's head golf professional, says a tournament experience such as the Jim Marek tests the competitors' skill levels.
"It's different from a casual round of golf," he said. "In a casual round, you might relax, give yourself an extra putt. In here, you hold your putts to the very end. It's a fun competition, just like any other and who knows, they might win a trophy."
Dennis Marek, who founded the tournament in 1982 as a tribute to his father, stopped by the course briefly. On competition days, he said he's known to walk the course through and observe multiple generations of golfers who have all taken part in his tournament.
"They come back, then their kids come back, and then their grandkids come back," Marek said, gesturing out to the greens.
Although the number of people playing golf is declining and courses are closing according to Marek, he sees the tournament as a way to encourage young families to play and teach their children about the sport.
"Golf is a low-pressure way to give young players experience of what it's like in a competitive atmosphere," Marek said.