CONWAY — When St. James finished third at the Region VII-AAA boys golf tournament last week at Azalea Sands Golf Club, it was an affirmation that the Sharks were too young to be a factor at the state championship.
It was the first time in seven years St. James didn’t win the region title, and made finishing in the top eight at Monday’s Class AAA Lower State tournament to qualify for the state championship a goal.
The Sharks showed Monday that the 2014 season won’t be relegated to merely a rebuilding year.
St. James shot a 16-over 304 as a team at the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina to win the Lower State tournament and enter the AAA state championship next Monday and Tuesday at Wildewood Country Club in Columbia with some renewed optimism.
“Our team played phenomenal,” said St. James junior Alan Crum, who shot an even-par 72 to share medalist honors with Travis Mancill of Hilton Head High. “This is supposed to be a rebuilding year, so to come in and win Lower State is great.
“It would be great to play somewhat the same next week and then we’ll be contending.”
Three of St. James’ nearby region foes also qualified for state, as region champion North Myrtle Beach finished third at 311, region runner-up Myrtle Beach finished fifth at 320 and Socastee finished seventh at 328. NMB’s Vijay Mishra finished third individually with a 73.
St. James finished five strokes ahead of runner-up Hilton Head, which played without No. 1 player Andrew Orischak, who participated in a U.S. Open qualifier Monday.
“It’s always great to say you’ve won something,” St. James coach Mike Riley said.
St. James played the Hackler Course in March and shot 30 strokes higher with a 334.
“I think they all stepped up and answered the call. I think they’re all peaking right now,” Riley said. “In high school golf nothing really matters until May.”
In addition to Crum, sophomore Mason Richardson tied for fourth individually with a 2-over 74, sophomore Karsten Kenly tied for 10th with a 77, eighth-grader Coleman Bess shot an 81 and seventh grader Charlie Wike shot an 85.
“We’ve got our whole [starting five] next year working over the summer, so we’re going to be strong,” Crum said. “This year has gone great compared to what we thought.”
Since the Hackler Course has hosted multiple AAA state championships in recent years, Crum has played the layout numerous times since he joined the Sharks varsity in seventh grade, and his 72 was by far his best score there.
He struggled with his driver in the region championship, so Crum kept it in the bag for the entire round Monday and hit a lot of 3-woods off the tee, which he said he can hit 280-290 yards. “My 3-wood goes as far as everyone else’s driver, so why not?” Crum said. “The head cover is on it right now and I haven’t even looked at it.”
Crum made birdies on holes 4, 13 and 16 on putts of approximately 10 feet each, and bogeys on holes 9, 11 and 16 for his 72.
Georgetown senior Evan Runion was one of three individuals who qualified for the state championship from non-qualifying teams, and emerged from a three-person playoff for the final two spots after shooting a 5-over 77.
The Spartanburg Methodist commitment made a par on the first playoff hole – the 156-yard par-3 10th – to give himself one final high school tournament to play next week.
“That would have been my last putt in high school, so that was some scary stuff. I’m still shaking,” Runion said moments after the playoff. “I have one last state [tournament], so I’m excited.”
Myrtle Beach played without No. 1 player Michael Leftis, who sat out with an injury to his kneecap and knee ligaments but hopes to rejoin the team for the state championship.
Gilbert finished sixth to qualify as a team, but could have finished 12 strokes better and ahead of Myrtle Beach in fifth had the score of sophomore Joseph Hardee counted.
Hardee and Hackler staff pros/tournament rules officials added some controversy and drama to the event. Hardee had apparently holed a shot from off the green, as his ball came to rest between the flag and cup.
Hardee plucked his ball from the hole without it ever hitting the bottom of the cup, and there was a question whether his ball was fully below the surface of the green or not. After questioning his playing partners, officials ruled that the ball was not fully submerged in the hole, and according to the Rules of Golf, Hardee never officially holed out to complete the hole and was disqualified, forcing Gilbert to accept another player’s 88 rather than Hardee’s 76.
“That was the goal coming down here was to qualify for state,” Gilbert coach Wayland Hiott said. “I feel bad for our player because he had a career round, and it’s disappointing he doesn’t get to enjoy that. But it’s a team game and we’re happy for the team.
“He’ll have a chance to shoot a good score [next week], and I promise you if his ball is ever stuck between the pin and the cup again, he’ll shake that flag and it’s going down.”