A week into the season, Heath already has made a habit of surprising.
Senior Derek Hamm helped the Bulldogs to a season-opening title Tuesday at the North Union Invitational, and they almost hit Hamm’s magic mark Friday in the Bulldog Shootout at Burning Tree Golf Course. Heath finished a strong fifth with a 321.
“When one of them plays bad, there is always another player right there picking him up,” Hamm said. “They are improving, which is good, and maybe we can get under 320 later this year. Hopefully, we can make it to districts this year.”
Hamm is the known commodity, but a group of unknowns have the Bulldogs appeared headed for a strong season. With Granville, Johnstown and Newark Catholic among the early favorites for Tuesday’s Licking County League preseason title, Heath could make it a four-way race.
Hamm shot 72, finishing third in the individual standings. Three others — junior Cade Risch (82) and sophomores Colin Hall (83) and Kennedy (84) — finished in the low 80s despite a heavy rain that slowed golfers during the final five or so holes. Hall’s 79 and Nick Pope’s career-best 88 were the eye-opening rounds Tuesday.
“I didn’t expect it,” Kennedy said. “When I figured out we won — because we are such a young team — I couldn’t believe we finished on top.”
Bexley shot to 305 to earn the team title at this event. Bloom-Carroll was second (307), and Johnstown edged out Fisher Catholic for third at 312 thanks to the fifth-man tiebreaker. Danville’s Brayden Baldridge beat Fisher Catholic’s Aaron Wood on the second playoff hole for medalist honors after each shot 69.
Hamm had himself in contention for medalist honors most of the day until a tough finishing stretch. He birdied Nos. 1 and 4 and eagled No. 5 to get to 4-under. He was out in 33.
“I made a birdie out of the gate, and I made a nice birdie on No. 4 because I hit it really close to about three or four inches,” Hamm said. “I was playing really well, and I got to the back side when the putter left me a little bit. I had three three-putts on the back. That wasn’t what I wanted.”
John Carlisle shot 38-36 for 74 to lead Johnstown. Other scorers were Dalton Hastings (78), Kaden Welch (80) and Stephen Thiel (80).
Hamm tied for ninth in the U.S. Junior Amateur Qualifier at Moundbuilders Country Club earlier in the summer, and he said it gave him a confidence boost. He is attempting to shake off a disappointing performance at the 2012 Division II district tournament.
He could have some company, too, this season.
“We are a really young team, and that is who we look up to,” Kennedy said. “We look up to Hamm, shooting all of these good scores, and that is where we want to be.”
Lakewood was seventh at 343. Scorers were Michael Wells (79), Chris Downs (84), Reed Moran (90) and Josh Jarvis (90).
Sheridan was 10th at 351. Scorers were Tyler Fisher (83), Ryan Grove (84), Jacob Miller (91) and John Conn (93).
Utica was 11th at 364. Scorers were Justin Doup (83), Jacob Daubenmire (92), Sean Martinsen (93), Clay Curtis (96) and Stephen Green (96).
Licking Valley was 12th at 366. Scorers were Marshal Hall (80), Zavier Mealick (92), Trent Miller (95) and Jacob Clark (99).
Licking Heights was 15th at 377. Scorers were John Kenney (88), Clyde Neiswander (92), Justin Wand (94) and Troy Hickman (103).