Brian Richards remembers four years ago when his nerves only heightened the challenge of playing in the state high school golf tournament.
“I’m on the first tee and I was just shaking,” said Richards, a Gulf Breeze High senior and the region medalist, whose team has advanced to the FHSAA Boys State Tournament for five consecutive years. “That first tee shot, I was so nervous. It was just insane.
“But what a great experience. Every year has been a great experience. The atmosphere and everything else is different that anything else we do.”
It’s an experience that will be shared by four Pensacola area high school golf teams competing in the girls and boys tournaments in two different classifications. Once again, the entire state golf tournament is being staged in a week-long period at Mission Inn Resort and Club, located at Howey-In-The-Hills, near Orlando.
First up, the Catholic High girls competing in the Class 1A tournament on Friday and Saturday.
On Monday and Tuesday, Gulf Breeze and West Florida High will be playing in the Class 2A tournament on the El Campeon Course. At the same time, the Pace High girls will play their Class 2A tournament at the Las Calinas Course at Mission Inn.
“You can see where you measure up with other teams and other classes,” said Catholic HIgh girls coach Eric Deininger. “The tees are different, weather could be different, conditions, and all that stuff. But everybody is playing same golf course on different days.”
The Crusaders, led by Madelyn Dimitroff, Payton Pacheco and region individual champ Conlan McKernan, have advanced to state the past five years.
“It’s a huge accomplishment. And not everybody gets to go,” Deininger said. “Some girls play their whole high school career and don’t get a chance to play in the state tournament and we have been fortunate to go five years in a row. I have had some great girls.”
The Crusaders finished eighth overall last year, the highest finish of any girls Class 1A team north of Orlando. In prep golf, teams from private schools and private academies in central and southern Florida (both sides of state) are annually in the top half of the leaderboard. Many of those schools are filled with international players, whose parents enroll them in these academies to enhance golf futures.
“It is a huge difference,” Deininger said. “We are a small school on W and Scott Street in Pensacola, going against these academies. But they swing the club just like we do. We’ll see what happens. A top 10 would be great, top 7 would be better.”
The West Florida High boys, a team without a senior on its travel squad, reached the state for only the second time in school history. Juniors Cameron Bonner and Tyler Augler, along with sophomores Noah Stachowicz, Colby Goodwin and Chase O’Connor, have alternated with low scores and give the Jaguars balance.
“We thought last year we could get down there (to MIssion Inn), but we were just so young,” said West Florida boys coach David Cooper. “The whole occasion got to them and we shot the worst round in regionals than we had shot all year.
“These kids play all year round and they earned it. I want them to relax there. They are underdogs. If they all play well, they can shoot in the 70’s”
The Pace girls advanced for the first time under coach Karl Jernigan after a second-place finish behind Fort Walton Beach High in the Region 1-2A Tournament in Panama City.
The Patriots have been led all season by sophomores Elise Schultz and Dina Weaver, along with senior Katrina Bottler, who had the team’s second lowest score in the region tourney.
Gulf Breeze is trying to improve on its fourth place in 2014, which was its highest. In addition to Richards, the Dolphins have fellow senior Nolan Remig, who shot 76 in the region, Jackson Reeves, who shot 79, then Luke Ellis (81) and RJ Phillips (82), who had his career best score in winning the FCA tournament.
The Dolphins have the fifth best total among Class 2A teams entering the state tournament. Ponte Vedra High, Orlando-Bishop Moore and Plantation-American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale are the top three teams.
“This team has been more successful than (2014 Gulf Breeze team) in victories and the scores (comparison) have been real close if not better,” said Dolphins coach Adam Smith. “We have three seniors who will be going for the third time. We have the anything is possible mindset.”
In playing the past three years, Richards said the golf courses at Mission Hills with rolling terrain and much faster greens than players in the Pensacola area are used to seeing is part of an adjustment, along with the competition.
“You’ve got hills and water on so many holes,” said Richards, whose prep season followed his participation in the U.S. Amateur at renown Oakland Hills (Mich.) Country Club, where he competed against the best amateur golfers in the world. “It’s not like any course we have around here. I guess they don’t call it Howey-In-The-Hills for nothing.”
Richards, who plans on signing with the University of Southern Mississippi early in November during the NCAA early signing period, is grateful
“You’ve got the best players in the state and it’s just a lot of fun to go there and represent our area. I feel like our teams here have little chip on our shoulder that motivates us. We want to make a name for ourselves.”
State Golf Tournament
Area Teams At Mission Inn Resort And Club
Class 1A Girls –– Catholic High begins play on Friday at Mission Inn after winning district and region tournaments.
Class 2A Girls –– Pace High begins play Monday at Mission Inn, after qualifying with a second-place finish in region.
Class 2A Boys — Both teams play on Monday. West Florida High qualified for only the second time in school history and Gulf Breeze advanced for the fifth consecutive year.