CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN — Based on Tuesday’s finish of a tough two days spent battling the elements -- almost as much an always-tough Royal Lakes Golf Course -- the future looks bright for both the Gainesville golf teams.
A pair of Red Elephants freshmen walked away with individual titles at the Hall County Championships as Gainesville also swept the team titles to continue their dominance of the tournament.
Andrew Hughes shot a 75 to nip fellow Red Elephant senior Ryan Hogan by one stroke while Karina Collins fired a 91 to hold off two fellow Lady Red Elephants -- Morgan Nichol and Vivian Robinson -- by four strokes in the girls competition.
Windy, cold conditions forced players to scrap for low scores on both days. That might seem to play into the hands of experienced players like Hogan and two-time defending Hall County champ Bartley Forrester of North Hall. Not so in 2018. And the feat left long-time Gainesville boys coach Bryson Worley somewhat shocked.
“I can’t remember if that’s happened before,” Worley said about two freshmen, no matter school affiliation, winning in the same season. “I think that says a lot about the younger players we have for both programs and are trying to develop -- and in these conditions as well.”
The Gainesville boys shot a 307 to beat second place North Hall (347) by 40 strokes and claim their eighth straight Hall County crown. Flowery Branch finished third at 379.
The Lady Red Elephants’ 281 was 35 shots better than second place North Hall (316), continuing their dominance of a tournament they have lost just twice since its inception (on the girls side) since 2000. Flowery Branch took third with a 342.
Gainesville girls coach Clay McDonald was all smiles as two of his team’s top three finishers were freshmen.
“You never know what to expect from the younger kids, but they did a great job for us. To have two freshmen post scores like that was something we probably weren’t expecting so that was nice to see,” he said.
The win for Hughes was even more remarkable after he took a double-par 8 on the Par 4 13th. However, he recovered in time to birdie two of the last three holes to overtake Hogan, who managed an even-par finish over the final three holes.
Hughes drained an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 16 and then left a 40-foot putt for eagle short by just inches as he tapped in for another birdie on the Par 5 18th. Hogan, who was a group behind Hughes, had a chance to send it to a playoff but missed a 7-footer for eagle. Hogan had five other putts lip-out during his round Tuesday.
Hughes said his goal coming into the tournament was just to contribute but that he felt he had a shot at the title after Monday.
“I just tried to put (No. 13) behind me,” Hughes said. “I hit a good first shot on 16 and then my second shot on 18 gave me a chance at eagle. I felt like I had a chance (to win it), but I’m still a little shocked with guys like Ryan and (North Hall senior and two-time defending champion) Bartley (Forrester) playing. It’s humbling but it feels good at the same time.”
Gainesville finished with the top four individual scores and five of the top six. Worley said they may have one of their deeper teams by season’s end.
“We’re really deep this year. Andrew had to win a team qualifier for us just to get to play so I think that is really helping all the guys right now,” Worley said.
Forrester, who was looking for his third straight Hall County Championship title, battled both days and finished with an 84, tied for eighth.
For the girls, McDonald said his young and inexperienced group played well despite the rough conditions.
“It may have been a tougher wind (Tuesday) than yesterday so I’m just real proud of how the girls handled things out there,” McDonald said. “We had three girls who had never played this course before so they just did a great job overall.”
Collins said she hadn’t thought about winning the tournament before Monday. Now she leaves with plenty of confidence.
“I was just trying to focus on the shot, and winning it wasn’t something I thought about (coming into the tournament),” she said. “Now that it’s over it feels pretty good. It makes me think that I can win down the road.”
2018 HALL COUNTY GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS
Royal Lakes Golf Club, March 12-13
Individual Top 10
Andrew Hughes, Gainesville, 75 -- low medalist
Ryan Hogan, Gainesville, 76
Brody Simmons, Gainesville, 78
Davis Weaver, Gainesville, 79
Michael Kallab, North Hall, 80
Zayne Hildebrand, Gainesville, 81
Mason Hill, Flowery Branch, 82
Bartley Forrester, North Hall, 84
AD Winston, Gainesville, 84
Connor Gillespie, Flowery Branch, 88
North Hall 347
Flowery Branch 379
West Hall 382
East Hall 429
Individual Top 10
Karina Collins, Gainesville, 91 -- low medalist
Morgan Nichol, Gainesville, 95
Vivian Robinson, Gainesville, 95
Shelby Benjamin, Chestatee, 101
Annika Cain, North Hall, 102
Lyric Sanford, North Hall, 106
Ashlyn Burch, Gainesville, 106
Emily Bergdoll, Flowery Branch, 108
Willow Hill, North Hall, 108
Hannah Brock, North Hall, 111
North Hall 316
Flowery Branch 342
West Hall 376
East Hall 392