High school golf: County tournament looks wide open
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan boys golf coach Rhett Teems watched rain beat down again on Monday evening and crossed his fingers.
Those why try to predict the weather have forecast mostly sunshine and pleasant temperatures for Thursday. That’s when the 18-hole Rowan County Championships are scheduled to get started at Corbin Hills at 1 p.m.
“It looks we’re going to have a good day for it — I sure hope so,” Teems said. “This spring has been wet. We had another match postponed today.”
With Salisbury dormant, Teems’ East teams have provided the heartbeat for Rowan County boys golf in recent years. East has provided the last four county individual champions — Nick Lyerly, Logan Shuping, Lyerly again, and then William Garland.
The Mustangs also have produced four straight runaway team championships. East romped by 40 shots in the county tourney last spring at McCanless — and by 18, 26 and 26 the three years before that. It didn’t matter if they played at Corbin, McCanless or Warrior, the Mustangs cruised.
East was very good, a statewide factor in recent seasons, including runner-up finishes in 3A in 2015 and 2016. East was fourth in 2017, Lyerly’s senior season, and slipped slightly to seventh last year.
Which brings us to this year. For the first time in a long time, the county tournament brings serious competition and not just a coronation of the Mustangs.
“We lost good players (Garland and Bryson Sprinkle) and we don’t have the depth we once had,” Teems said. “The last few years we went into the county championship knowing our No. 3 guy could win the tournament if he had a good day, but we’re not quite there now. We’re still winning North Piedmont Conference matches, but we also played in bigger events, like the two-day tournament at Irish Creek in March with a lot of the best teams in the state, and it was clear we’re just didn’t stack up at the state level right now. For us to compete in the regional this year, our guys will have to have a great day.”
East finished tied for 19th in that 20-team tournament at Irish Creek. The team East tied with was Salisbury.
Salisbury dominated the county in the early part of this decade with individual champions such as Roy Dixon, Eric Edwards and Alex Nianouris. South Rowan broke through for a win by a single shot over the Hornets in 2013 at Corbin Hills. Led by Edwards, Salisbury returned to the top in 2014. Then East took over.
Salisbury has been down in recent years, but the foundation for a comeback was the arrival of current junior Hank Robins. Will Fowler made his SHS debut last season. Now the Hornets have added freshmen Luke Graeber and Will Webb. In a nine-hole Central Carolina Conference match last week, Fowler shot 38, Graeber and Webb carded 39s, and Robins shot 40.
“There was a time when Salisbury was unbelievably deep and their second five could’ve won tournaments,” Teems said. “They’re not at that level now, but they’ve rebuilt and they are definitely on their way back to being really strong. They’ve got young players with talent and ability, and they’re definitely a threat to win the county.”
South Rowan’s Andrew Jackson shot a sensational 34 last week in CCC competition. South’s Andrew Coward is also one of the county’s top players. He shot 77 in the county tournament last spring.
East’s most consistent player is sophomore Colby Patterson, with Austin Miller next. They shot 76 and 77, respectively, in last year’s county tournament. East also counts on Cole Mabry and Alex Miller. In mid-March, Patterson shot a 30 at McCanless, so he’s capable of big things.
Other individuals to watch include Carson’s Ethan Scarborough and Andrew Burke, North Rowan’s Spencer Everhart and West Rowan’s Davis Tadlock. Tadlock shot 36 for medalist honors in a nine-hole NPC match last week. He shot 80 in last year’s county event.
“Individually, there are a lot of guys who could win the tournament,” Teems said. “Team-wise, you need your top two guys to have a good day and have everyone else fall in behind them.”
The worst team score (top four) that’s won in the last decade was South’s 325 in 2013 at Corbin Hills. The best team score in the decade was the 284 fired by Salisbury at McCanless in 2011. That was a Salisbury team headed for a state championship.
Lyerly’s sizzling 66 at Corbin in 2017 was the best individual score posted over the last decade. Three champs shot 67s in that time period. It’s taken at least a 73 to win the individual county crown.
Maybe East keeps it going even in a rebuilding year, but maybe Salisbury or South stops the Mustangs’ streak.
As far as the individual champion, Patterson is certainly a guy to keep an eye on, but the individual championship is always up for grabs. This isn’t a four-round event that guarantees the cream will rise to the top. It’s a one-day deal, and a lot of players in the county are capable of hitting it straight and making putts for 18 holes.
Playing at Corbin Hills isn’t an advantage for anyone. That’s a venue where just about every golfer in the county knows the course well.
Teems said the plan is for up to six players on each team to participate, which will allow more young players to gain experience in an environment with a bit more pressure than the standard conference matches. He expects the Salisbury, South and East guys to play in threesomes.
“It should be exciting,” Teems said. “Definitely wide open.”