Chiles golf preps for state finals

Chiles golf preps for state finals

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Chiles golf preps for state finals

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Florida, the sunshine state, is a golfer’s paradise. Right up until it isn’t.

Strong winds and brisk November temperatures wreaked havoc on the Chiles boys golf team when it played Mission Inn Country Club’s Las Colinas course two years ago at the state tournament in Howey-in-the-Hills.

Without a practice round under its belt, the Timberwolves quickly collapsed amid a myriad of physical and mental problems. The team is determined that memory as motivation headng into the start of Tuesday’s two-day FHSAA Class 3A Finals,

“It was extremely difficult,” said senior Matt Young, one of two current Timberwolves to play that year. “Wind, it was cold. It just wasn’t Tallahassee. We have no wind. It’s a constant struggle because you’re fighting for pars the whole entire day, instead of going out trying to get birdies.”

It was a hard introduction for Chiles to the rigors of a two-day, 36-hole tournament in unfamiliar conditions. Young shot 79-90. Junior Bennett Baker– he currently of eight sub-par rounds in his last nine matches– struggled to 90-88, and Chiles finished 15th of 16 teams, 47 strokes behind winner Lakewood Ranch.

“On that particular day, we got six or seven over and they were done, thought ‘We can’t win,'” Timberwolves coach Ken Smith said. “And they were young guys that didn’t have any experience there. It just sort of snowballed.”

Chiles used that wisdom, however, to turn in a solid campaign last year, winning a regional title at Seminole Golf Course and then finishing sixth at state, this time just 16 strokes back of Lakewood Ranch at Deer Island in Tavares. While the course is different, the central Florida weather is predictable.

“Hell,” said Fletcher Morgan, shooting 81-74.

“The first day, we had trees blowing over, the wind was ridiculous. We’re not used to that here. You have to learn how to play the wind. You gotta know you’re not going to hit very many greens, and you just have to get up and down, kind of fight it out.”

Morgan finished in a tie for 25th and Baker in a tie for 11th. Two strokes better and Chiles would have finished in fourth, one shot worse and it would have been 10th.

“Most of the time, golf is not a team sport,” Morgan said. “But you gotta think every shot is for the team, not for you. You can’t hit stupid shots. Whatever the course gives you, you have to take it.”

Therein lies the growth of the Timberwolves, who also use Big Bend champion Eli Hendricks and Pledger Striplin to comprise their five. They are patient and poised, loose and each capable of coming in with the day’s low round.

“Nothing really changes, I just have to keep playing shot by shot and play how I have been all season,” Striplin said. “I always play the course. If I start thinking about my opponent, I’ll start choking.”

The worry has continued to dissipate with every low score and with increased focus on doing the little thing necessary to win, things which hadn’t been done previously.

“At state last year and the year before, we were just kind of excited and didn’t really think of it to where we need to be serious,” Hendricks said. “This year, we’re playing practice rounds. We’re taking it a little more serious– taking notes and not just playing bets or skins.”

“I think we know what we’re getting into,” Young said.

“We kind of went in last year as ‘We’re 63-0. We’re cocky and we can’t be beaten.’ This year, we already know we can get beaten– first match of the season, Columbia. Now we’re going in knowing what to expect. We know the course, which is a huge advantage.”

Since that loss, Chiles has rattled off 68 straight wins, many in impressive fashion. In their district championship win, the Timberwolves shot a 10-under par 278. Baker fired a 65, Hendricks 67, Young 72, Morgan 74 and Striplin 75. With humility and confidence comes an inkling that the upcoming state result should also be more to its liking.

“I’m not expecting those guys to shoot 90,” Smith said.

“It’s their maturity and experience. We have 22 scores under par this year. That beats our last three years combined. This is a special team, our best team we’ve had here, and we probably won’t have a team again like this for a while.”

While Las Colinas is a long, tight fairway venue with small, hard greens, the mental process for Chiles is such that bogeys are no longer an absolute killer. Stay calm, find an opportunity to get the stroke back, and, ideally, reap the reward of a season’s worth of calm decision-making. It’s worked so far, it can work one more time.

“Hopefully, we bring home the title,” Young said. “That’s what we’re going there for. That’s the goal.”

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