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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2019 1 week ago

Winter Garden’s Shawn Coultoff excels on national stage

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The Winter Garden native — and No. 1 golfer for his age — lit up the course at the PGA Jr. League regional.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

The golfing season is a seemingly never-ending one — just ask Winter Garden golf phenom Shawn Coultoff.

Last weekend, Shawn traveled to Palm Beach Gardens as a member of the Marriott Golf Academy All-Stars, who were competing in the PGA Jr. League regional.

“We destroyed at local, and then at sectional we won both matches,” the 12-year-old said. “I was feeling — and most of the team was the same — confident about getting through (the regional).”

The PGA Jr. League is the golf equivalent of Little League Baseball. Young golfers compete throughout a regular season, and the best of the best are chosen to All-Star teams.

One of the best golfers in the world for his age, Shawn was named to the North Florida Squad that squared off in the four-team, round-robin regional that featured Georgia, Alabama and South Florida. Florida is split into two squads because of the disproportionate talent level and sheer number of players produced by the state.

Unlike tournaments that include multiple rounds of golf, the regional was set up as a “flags competition.” A nine-hole match is divided into three three-hole parts. To win a flag, a team must win the most number of holes per those three different sections.

Courtesy photo

On the first day of competition — Saturday, Sept. 8 — Shawn and his team dominated Alabama in the morning session, winning 11 flags to Alabama’s one, before going on to tie Georgia at 6-6.

“It’s good against that team (Georgia) — in fact, the two kids that Shawn played against were two world champions,” said Eric Coultoff, Shawn’s father and a former pro golfer. “You’re talking about nine holes of golf with 10 kids on each side — that’s a lot of golf. It came down to literally one shot — if one shot had gone in or not gone in for either team, the result would be different.”

It was a familiar feeling at the end of Day 1 for Shawn. In last year’s regional tournament, North Florida tied Georgia before Georgia went on to nationals in Arizona. 

Another familiarity that popped up for Shawn was adjusting to team play — something that’s pretty alien for most golfers who spend their time playing alone. In that format, each golfer is paired with another. Not only does each golfer have to account for themselves, but also for someone else.

“It’s definitely different than individual competition, but playing on a team, if you hit a bad shot, your partner can always hit a good shot,” Shawn said. “(It’s) knowing that if you or your partner hits a bad shot … you’ll feel pressure or your partner feels a lot of pressure, especially if the other team hit a really good shot.”

The change is a welcome one.

“The bottom line is it gives him an opportunity to play a team sport,” Eric said. “It’s not year-round, but for this time of the year, it is definitely a good change of pace.”

On the second day of the tournament, it once again was déjà vu for Shawn and the North Florida team. North Florida trounced South Florida 9-3, but Georgia had a field day against Alabama in an 11-1 win. 

The results meant both North Florida and Georgia finished with a tied record, so they went to the first tiebreaker of head-to-head competition — which was the 6-6 tie on the first day. Therefore, a second tie-breaker — total flags earned — was taken into account, and Georgia claimed the regional title by a single flag.

It was a tough break for Shawn and North Florida, but considering 60,000 kids nationwide entered league play before the field was whittled down to the 480, it’s an impressive accomplishment.

“I hope now he gains confidence from it,” Eric said. “He’s the No. 1 player in the state right now… not very many people can go around in their mind and know that they are exceptional at something.”

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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