After coming within two strokes of the state title last year, Winter Park’s boys golf team returned to the big dance and captured an emotional championship win.
There’s a first time for everything. How about a high school state championship in boys golf?
The Winter Park High School varsity boys golf team made school history Wednesday, Nov. 7, as it captured the state championship at the Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-In-The-Hills.
Golfers Drew Lanier, Brandon Boncore, Andrew Clark, Stephen Hickham and Michael Mays kept cool and played tremendously with a final score of 603 strokes over the two-day tournament (305 the first day and 298 the second day). Winter Park was the only school to finish a day of the tournament with fewer than 300 strokes — the overall par for the course for one day was 288.
“It’s a lot to wrap my head around still,” head coach Rob Robison said. “They played incredibly. We set a game plan and a goal at the end of the year to make it to state — that’s always the goal — and you accomplish that, and we prepared very, very hard.
“We didn’t worry about anybody else, and that was intentional,” he said. “You can’t control what the other teams do, and I told the guys that they just had to go play their game, they knew the golf course, and not worry about anything else, except staying in that moment for each shot. It showed. They played incredibly — especially on that second day.”
It was a victory made all the more sweet because of how close Winter Park came to the title last year. The Wildcats finished in third place during that two-day tournament — just two strokes behind first place Gulf Coast High School.
This year, Winter Park finished on top — with five fewer stokes than second-place Gulf Coast.
“It’s really special; it’s kind of been our goal all year,” Clark said. “That’s what we set out to do in the beginning. After last year, it seemed like a long wait until we were back playing again, so it’s definitely a little sweeter this year after how close we came last year and having to deal with that.”
The historical significance of the state title for the program also made the win very satisfying, Robison said.
“It’s emotional,” he said. “I’m a Winter Park grad, and I love this school. It’s the first-ever state title in boys golf, so that’s pretty special. It’s really cool for these kids, but I think about the last six seasons and the program that we’ve been building. Besides the players on this year’s team, I think about all the guys (who) have played for me these last few years and how hard they’ve worked to get the program to where it is.”
Robison added that despite only five golfers competing at the state tournament, there are 12 golfers on the team — and every one of them practiced every day and pushed each other to be their best, he said. The coaching staff and parents also have been incredible.
“It’s our whole program that won this event,” Robison said. “It’s extremely gratifying and humbling. They worked so hard for these last three months and put in so much time.”
It was a complete team effort by the top five golfers, but there was no lack of individual heroics on the course. The team arrived later than expected on the first day of the tournament because of a closed bridge on the route, and sophomore Michael Mays arrived with only 10 minutes to spare before starting play the first day. With hardly any time to warm up, Mays still managed to golf an on-par game on the par-72 course.
“He ends up finishing fifth overall in the state tournament — I think that’s pretty cool for a sophomore,” Robison said.
Sophomore Andrew Clark managed to golf two under par on the second day and ended with a sixth-place finish, while senior Drew Lanier also pulled off a gutsy bounce-back performance after golfing an 81 the first day. He ended up shooting a clutch 75 on the second day.
“It’s just a great bounce back to show his leadership and composure — it was huge for us,” Robison said.
Whenever the team needed a golfer to step up, one of the guys made it happen, Robison said.
“They got comfortable knowing that even if they didn’t have their best day, the guys were going to be there to pick each other up,” Robison said.