In a tournament filled with upperclassmen, it was the young guns who stole the show Tuesday at the 11th annual Louisiana Champions Invitational at Tamahka Trails Golf Club at Paragon Casino.
St. Thomas More’s Drew Gonzales and Louise McGehee’s Angelica Harris, both freshmen, captured individual championships in the boys’ and girls’ divisions of the state’s premier high school golf event which serves as the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s annual All-Star event for prep golf.
Gonzales posted a 2-over-par 73 to win the boys’ division while Harris fired a 7-over-78 to claim the title in the girls’ division.
The limited-field event was open only to the top finishers from the LHSAA’s state championship events held two weeks ago. The top five finishers in each of the four boys classifications and the top three finishers in the LHSAA’s two girls classifications were eligible to participate.
Gonzales, who claimed top individual honors in the Division II state tournament, was making his first appearance in the All-Star event and was paired with Division I state champion Logan Hayes of Barbe.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t get off to the best of starts.
“There were definitely (some) nerves (early),” he admitted afterward. “But once I got out there and started playing, it got better. I felt pretty good coming in because I knew I was playing well and my putter got better throughout the round.”
Gonzales found himself at 2-over-par after just three holes, but a few pars and, then, a big birdie on the eighth hole proved to be the turning point.
“I finally started making some pars,” he said. “And after the birdie, I started hitting really well.”
The STM freshman went on to card a 1-over-par 36 on the back nine to finish the tournament two strokes ahead of Benton’s Corbin Cantrell. And he did so despite bogeying holes 16 and 17 before getting up and down on the final hole.
“This is just really an awesome feeling,” said Gonzales. “I didn’t think I would win state, much less this, so it’s pretty good.”
Zachary’s Peyton McCullough and Vermilion Catholic’s Nick Hollier finished tied for third place after each carded a 76 on the day. McCullough fired an even-par 35 for the lowest (9-hole) round of the day on the backside, but he wasn’t able to overcome the 5-over-par 41 he posted on the first nine holes.
Notre Dame’s Kyle Camp, Ruston’s Mitchell Haddox and Byrd’s Jeffrey Berry were tied for fifth with rounds of 77.
In the girls division, the third time was the charm for Harris.
After earning runner-up honors as a seventh grader in 2011 and again as an eight-grader in 2012, she finally broke through with a victory.
“I think I had a very good day today,” said Harris, who had a one-stroke lead at the turn after shooting a 4-over-par 40 on the front side. “I just tried to stay in it. I placed second here the last two years so , this year, I had nothing to lose and I went for everything.”
Harris, like Gonzales, had a rough start after four putting on the third hole for a triple bogey to start the round.
She recovered quickly, though, and chipped in for a birdie on the fourth hole.
“The third hole was kind of rough, but I knew if I just kept playing I would be fine,” said Harris.
She was right.
Harris birdied holes 15 and 17, both par 3s, and finished the back with a 38 win the event by two strokes over Runnels’ Taylor Kennedy.
“Looking back on my history (here), I think the backside plays a lot harder than the front nine,” said Harris. “I have played the front nine a lot better so on the back nine, today, I was just focusing on saving strokes because I know it plays very hard.”
St. Thomas More’s Lauren Aillet and St. Louis’ Olivia Hanson finished tied for third after each shot an 82 while St. Thomas More’s Danielle Perez was fifth with an 83. St. Joseph’s Taylor Thompson rounded out the group with an 85.
The Louisiana Champions, which is sanctioned by the LHSAA as its official “all-star” event for prep golf, awarded a total of $2,600 in scholarships to the top finishers, including a $750 scholarship to both the boys and girls champions.