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Prep Signing: South Rowan golfer Davis Richards to N.C. State

LANDIS — It’s never smart to  believe the hype, so Josh Vinson, former South Rowan golf coach, welcomed a freshman named Davis Richards in the spring of 2012 with a mixture of optimism and skepticism.

“I’d been hearing about this special golfer who was coming to South since he was in middle school,” Vinson said. “But you hear a lot of things. Then the first time we go out for nine holes of practice at Warrior, Davis shoots 32, and I realized he was even better than I’d heard. He was the real deal.”

The last few years have proven Richards to be the real deal — and then some. He verbally committed to N.C. State early, and he officially signed a National Letter of Intent with the Wolfpack last week. Initially, the Wolfpack was not at the top of his list, but  that’s the program that came after him first and wanted him the most.

“I’ve always been a really big Carolina fan,” Richards said . “And Wake Forest because of all the golf tradition that they have is a place I always dreamed of going. But N.C. State was the first to offer, and after I thought about it, I realized  no one could make a better offer. N.C. State was the right place for me.”

Richards got his start in golf early. His grandfather, Wade Lowder, was a frequent baby-sitter, and he bought one of those plastic golf club sets  designed for 5 or 6-year-olds for Richards when he was 3. The kid showed an immediate gift for whacking balls around the backyard. He called the club, “his stick” and he wanted to smack balls with the stick every day.

“I spent a lot of days walking around the yard,” Richards said.

Things sort of took off from there. Richards was a natural, and fine tuning has been provided by  golf lessons from Brian Lee and Dana Rader.

Vinson was concerned at one point that Richards was playing too much golf and needed a break, so he encouraged him to try out for the Raiders’ jayvee basketball team.

“He sprained an ankle, like the first day, and he sent me a picture of the X-rays of his swollen ankle,” Vinson said with a laugh. “I told him it might be best to stick with golf.”

As a sophomore, Richards shot 30 in a  match with Salisbury.

“That was on the front nine at Warrior, and Davis played as good a nine holes of golf  as I’ve ever seen,” Vinson said. “It was freezing, and he just missed a 15-foot putt for 29.”

Richards qualified for the 3A state championships as an individual as a sophomore in Vinson’s last year as South Rowan’s golf coach. Early in his junior year at South Rowan, Richards and Jake Kennedy, a West Rowan star who now plays at Gardner-Webb, teamed up to win the prestigious Labor Day Golf  Tournament at the Country Club of Salisbury. For players that young, it was a monumental feat.

When new coach Steve Beaver took the reins of the South Rowan  program last spring, he conducted the standard talk with the team.

“We sat down and we talked about our goals for the season and everyone had a chance to speak,” Beaver said. “When I got to Davis, he said he had only one goal — for the team to go to state. And he took them there.”

South Rowan is not the first program you think of when you’re listing golf powers, but the Raiders placed second in the Midwest Regional last spring to qualify  for the state tournament. Richards didn’t do it alone, but he  led the charge. He was the regional medalist, shooting 68.

Last May, Richards shot 73 at a local U.S. Open qualifer  to earn an alternate spot for sectional qualifying. That led to him getting a chance to compete in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Ohio against a number of touring pros. He wasn’t fazed by the big stage, the long drive and an unfamiliar course and acquitted himself  well with rounds of 72 and 78.

The sky appears to be the limit for Richards, who is ranked fifth among the state’s young golfers with a  stroke average of 72.65.  He  hits 2-irons and 3-irons far enough off the tees that he leaves his driver in the bag on holes where there’s potential trouble. He has shot 62 at the Club at Irish Creek, two off  the course record.

“I shot a 29 there (for nine holes) back in March in a tournament round,” Richards said.

While there should be plenty of 29s and 30s during Richards’ senior season, there’s a lot more to him than just hammering golf balls.

He’s a  walking miracle — a premature baby who wasn’t given much of a chance to survive — and he’s already given a lot back to Charlotte Presbyterian Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit that he credits with saving him.

Richards has raised thousands  of dollars  through a “Birdies for Charity” program. Sponsors sign up, and they write checks whenever he produces a tournament birdie.

“Davis has cost me a lot of money,” Vinson said with a laugh. “I think he made 10  birdies in the first tournament after I signed up. But that’s a check you never mind writing because this kid is an even better person than he is a golfer.”

 

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