High school boys golf: Merrell, McCoy lead All-Rowan County team

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2024

East Rowan’s Landon Merrell. Photo by Wayne Hinshaw, for the Salisbury Post



By Mike London

SALISBURY — The golf competition between East Rowan graduate Landon Merrell and Salisbury rising junior John McCoy was tight enough this season to declare it a draw, and the Post won’t ask them to settle it with a playoff hole.

They will share Rowan County Player of the Year honors.

Merrell averaged 3.90 shots per hole in the counting league matches, while McCoy averaged 3.93. Merrell was a little better in the county. McCoy was a little better in the state tournament.

Merrell’s track record for the nine-hole South Piedmont Conference matches this year was remarkably consistent. Golfers can drop their worst round in computing the season conference totals, and Merrell’s drop was a 37, which obviously would be a career best for many high school golfers. He shot a rock-solid 34-31-34-36-34-34 in his other rounds.

Merrell’s most unlucky day of the season unfortunately came in the 18-hole South Piedmont Conference, which wasn’t droppable. He shot 78.

“That was a disappointing day,” Merrell said. “Because I went into that match with a chance to win the conference for the season with a low score, but I just didn’t make any putts.”

A seventh-place finish in the conference tournament hurt, but Merrell still finished third for the season in a challenging golf conference. Northwest Cabarrus has a pair of stellar golfers in Talan Harrison and Cooper Burris. They finished ahead of Merrell.

“Competing in our league matches, you knew you might go out there and shoot 34 and still not be medalist,” Merrell said. “But that wasn’t a bad thing. It pushed me to compete hard every time.”

Merrell always shines in the Rowan County Championships. He can handle the nerves, the anxiety and whatever the weather brings, and that was the case again this season. He birdied his 18th hole and shot 73 at Warrior to win by two shots. McCoy shot 75 to tie for second.

Merrell has ruled the county tournament four times in a historic career. He won outright in 2021 and 2022, as well as this season.

He tied with McCoy for first place in 2023, McCoy’s freshman season.

“I guess you could say I won the county three and a half times,” Merrell said with a chuckle.

Merrell shot a 75 in the 3A Midwest Regional and qualified for the 3A State Championships as an individual.

He shot 75-72 — 147 in the state event and tied for 16th on the leaderboard.

“My first round at states was a little sloppy, but that 72 on the second day, in the rain, that was some of the best golf I played all year,” Merrell said. “I played very solid, hit every fairway, hit 14 greens in regulation. If I make a few more putts, I could have really gone low, but I was happy with how I played in my last round of golf for East Rowan.”

Merrell was coached by his mother, Tinsley Merrell.

McCoy’s season in the Central Carolina Conference matches went smoothly, except for a 43 on a crazy weather day. That aberration was cheerfully dropped.

He shot 35-35-38-33-35 in the other CCC matches. In the CCC Tournament, he won with a 72. His toughest league competition was actually his Salisbury teammates. He cruised to the season conference championship by 24 strokes and was the CCC Player of the Year.

McCoy’s most challenging day was in the 2A Midwest Regional. He was at about 50 percent. McCoy spent the morning throwing up, but  he managed to stagger in with a 77. There aren’t any mulligans in the regional. It’s a one-day deal to qualify for the state, sick or healthy, and McCoy wasn’t going to let his teammates down. He had some teammates, most notably Warren Fesperman, pick him up, and the Hornets won the regional championship.

“I felt terrible all day, but I went out and did the best that I could,” McCoy said.

In the 2A State Championships, McCoy was feeling much stronger and shot 72-72 — 144 to finish sixth. He had the lead for a long stretch on the first day. His finish was a step up from his freshman year when he was eighth in the state event.

“I shot a 69 in a non-conference match this year, but that 72 on the second day of the State Championships was probably my best round of the season, McCoy said. “I double-bogeyed my first hole, sliced my tee shot into a lake, but then I played 2-under for the round after that.”

The Hornets, the Rowan County and Central Carolina Conference champions, played significantly better on the second day of the state tournament, following a disappointing first day. They finished third in 2A.

“I think nerves got to us a little bit on the first day, but we actually won the second day of states, which shows what we can be,” McCoy said. “Our team was much stronger this year. Everyone put in the work to get better. Now we’ve just got to keep doing that.”

McCoy has a bright future. His father, Christopher, won a state championship as a Hornet in 1995, and the possibility of individual and team championships are still out there for John, who has a talented younger brother (Ryan) on the way.

McCoy has a series of  major tournaments lined up for this summer. He’s going to test himself in the N.C. Junior, the Carolinas Junior and the Dogwood Junior to name a few.

McCoy loves golf and continues to work at it. Coach Josh Brincefield appreciates the 16-year-old’s daily dedication to the sport.

Merrell, who qualified for three 3A State Championships during his career, still has a lot of golf in front of him. The male recipient of the NCHSAA’s Alford Family Golf Scholarship, he plans to play for Coker University, in Hartsville, S.C., while pursuing a business/finance major. Coker is a power in Division II.

“I had some Division I offers, but Coker definitely was the best situation for me,” Merrell said. “It’s a good academic school with a great golf program. They compete at a national level in Division II.”


Coach of the Year — Josh Brincefield, Salisbury

Players of the Year — Landon Merrell, East and John McCoy, Salisbury

The All-Rowan County golf team is based on the results of the Rowan County Championships. Coaches designated a first and second team.

First team

East Rowan — Landon Merrell, Jaden Sprinkle

Salisbury — John McCoy, Jacob Trainor, Jackson Sparger

West Rowan — Tyler Kepley

Second team

East Rowan — Brady McIntyre, Mason Mainville

Salisbury — Warren Fesperman, Sam Goodman

West Rowan — Brody Tucker

South Rowan — Dane Wheeler