High school golf: East’s Merrell repeats as Rowan County Player of the Year

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 15, 2022


By Mike London

RALEIGH — It’s a wet Saturday, but for East Rowan sophomore Landon Merrell there are no bad days spent on a golf course.

He’s playing in the first round of the 12th annual Wolfpack Junior Amateur held on the Lonnie Poole Golf Course.

Normally, Merrell is a par machine, a guy who can make 4s in his sleep, but throw in the anxiety of rain delay, and it’s more challenging for him than usual. Still, he shoots 3-over 75. He makes four birdies to mostly off-set the damage done by a double bogey and five bogeys.

Now he can’t get wait to get back on the course again today, and he’ll probably birdie some of those holes that bit him in the first round. That’s who he is.

In two seasons at East, Merrell has impressed everyone as a low-mistakes guy, a high-character guy and a poised guy. He’s about as steady as the sunrise. Everyone hits a bad shot now and then, but he’s learned at a young age to minimize the damage and move on.

As a sophomore, as he made a transition from Coach Rhett Teems to Coach Randy Kaiser, Merrell showed the consistency of a senior. He is the Post’s Rowan County Player of the Year for the second time.

“I was a better golfer this year than I was as a freshman,” Merrell said. “My wedge game was greatly improved. My putting was infinitely better.”

You may recall that as a freshman, Merrell was North Piedmont Conference season champ and rolled in the Rowan County Championship held at The Revival Golf Club at Crescent by 10 strokes.

So he set the bar high as a ninth-grader.

The county tournament wasn’t a runaway for him this season — West senior McGwire Owen was determined to lead the Falcons to the team championship and saw to that —  but Merrell rose to the moment and smashed a perfect drive followed by the best 3-wood of his young life to set up a two-putt for a critical birdie on a long par 5. On a soggy day at the Country Club of Salisbury, Merrell’s 75 was good enough to top Owen by two strokes, and now he’s a rare back-to-back county champ.

The regular season was a blast for Merrell and for every player and coach in the realigned South Piedmont, which proved to be as competitive in boys golf as it was in baseball.

“Lake Norman Charter, Northwest Cabarrus and West Rowan had great teams,” Merrell said. “And there were a lot of good golfers on other teams. Usually there were about seven of us in the mix for medalist on a given days.”

Those were nine-hole SPC matches. They drop the worst score for the season, which meant Merrell jettisoned a 41. That left him with a season scorecard of 34-34-35-38-35-34. That’s pretty strong. He finished second for the season to Northwest Cabarrus’ Talan Harrison.

“I had four rounds of 1-under,” Merrell said. “And we got to play some new courses in the new league. Irish Creek was my favorite. That’s a fun place to play.”

In the 18-hole South Piedmont Conference Tournament at the Country Club of Salisbury, Merrell shot 76 and was two strokes behind teammate (and medalist) Jaden Sprinkle.

Merrell turned in  a 76 at the Country Club to tie for fifth in the 3A Midwest Regional. That qualified him to take his first shot at the state tournament as in individual.

He shot 81 in the first round on Pinehurst No. 6. At least 99.9 percent of the population would be thrilled to shoot 81 on that course, but Merrell wasn’t pleased with himself.

He came back on the second day to shoot 76 and jumped up the leaderboard to a tie for 19th. Owen, a friendly rival, outplayed him on the first day at Pinehurst, but Merrell wound up with the better tournament, by three shots.

“The course played very long both days, with not much roll,” Merrell said. “The first day I made four double bogeys, but the second day I just putted a lot better. I didn’t have a single three-putt on the second day, so that’s a pretty good round.”

In time, as he gets older and stronger, Merrell figures to be turning those 76s and 75s into 70s and 71s. He’s got all the ingredients to become one of the county’s memorable players.

Besides his expected individual growth, Merrell believes East will have a stronger team next season, with several talented freshmen joining the squad.

“The goal is going to be to get East back to the state as a team,” Merrell said. “We’re going to be good.”

It was a strong boys golf season in the county, with West taking the county title and with Salisbury winning the Central Carolina Conference Tournament and qualifying for the state tournament as a team. Carson’s Cade Cranfield and South’s Jackson Black joined Merrell and Owen as 3A individual state qualifiers.

All-County team

(set by coaches at the county tournament)

89 was the cutoff

East — Landon Merrell, Jaden Sprinkle

West — McGwire Owen, Tyler Kepley, Gage Ludwick, Justin Cole

South — Jackson Black

Carson — Cade Cranfield

Salisbury — Will Webb, Warren Fesperman, Nick Antosek, Luke Graeber, Wade Robins

Coach of the Year  — Ken Clarke, West