The championship course at Panama City’s Holiday Golf Club had already set up nicely for Rickards golfer Matthew Dunn when the senior grabbed his 7-iron and stared down his tee shot on the 178-yard, par-3 17th hole.
After birdies on the previous two holes of his first nine holes of the Region 1-2A tournament, Dunn took his right-handed tee shot out towards the right and watched his ball draw back towards the green.
Initially attuned to wind coming on from the left, Dunn’s worry changed to the towering tree on the right that could leave him an awkward second shot across a bunker to the front right pin position.
In an instant, Dunn’s ball missed the tree by a foot, then he heard the roar of the few spectators standing around watching. It was a hole-in-one.
“I wasn’t worried about the tree until I hit it,” Dunn said. “I thought the ball was going in the bunker or the rough, but I got a lucky bounce off the fringe and it happened to go in. At first, I didn’t even know it had gone in until one of the coaches screamed. Then I got pretty excited and for a couple holes after that I was pretty pumped.”
Dunn shot the day’s second lowest round, a 1-over par 73, which allowed him to become the first golfer in Rickards’ history to make the state tournament. Dunn plays Day 1 of the culmination to his season on Tuesday at Mission Inn Resort’s Las Colinas course in Howey-in-the-Hills.
“I’ve just practiced every single day for about five or six years, and I’ve played in a bunch of out of town tournaments,” said Dunn. “I’ve just gotten better until I’ve gotten to this point.”
Raiders golf and tennis coach Jeff Rauschenberg has been with Rickards for over a decade. He’s had Dunn with him for some time, both in golf and in tennis, where Dunn has been a district and regional champion two years in a row, as well. Last year as a junior, Dunn missed the state tournament after losing out in a three-way playoff for the final spot.
“He works very hard it,” Rauschenberg said.
“I’m hitting my best drive out there about 280 (yards) and he pigeon drops me. You could build a Wal-Mart in between my ball and his ball. He can hit the ball, he’s gotten a lot more consistent with his irons, and his short game has improved dramatically. He’s able to get up and down from hard places. He has just a more mature approach to the game.”
According to Rauschenberg, Dunn missed a hole-in-one by inches in the practice round the day before. With two days of play in the state tournament, mistakes will be made, but exciting moments will also happen. Handling everything extremely windy central Florida courses bring will be a challenge only even-keel approach can manage.
“Everyone else went crazy, but he had a very calm response,” Rauschenberg said. “I think that’s good. You don’t want to get too high or too low, too angry or too happy, because that takes you out of your rhythm.”
Chiles boys team, led by district and region champion Bennett Baker, begins play Tuesday for the 3A state tournament, at Deer Island Golf Club in Tavares. The Timberwolves finished fifth last season.
An exquisite season has concluded for the John Paul II girls team, which finished 16th at the 1A state tournament last week at Mission Inn. Panthers junior Teresa Conroy finished in a tie for 42nd, shooting 80-87. Sophomore Morgan Comer and junior Grace Murray finished 66th and 68th, respectively.
Aucilla Christian golfer Megan Schofill also ended her year in fine fashion by not only making the 1A state tournament as an eighth grader but by finishing in a tie for 54th.