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Saturday September 22nd, 2018 7:14AM

Golf: Red Elephants hopeful after strong start but focused only on improving

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

GAINESVILLE — Gainesville High golf has nurtured and produced some impressive talent through the decades, including seven state championship squads.

So when Red Elephants coach Bryson Worley says his current roster features perhaps the best ball-strikers he's ever guided you take notice.

"They're top three or four if not the best," said Worley, who knows well that includes his 2012-13 state champs. "And we have good depth; it's so competitive even in practice. That's the way we like it and the way it's been in the past."

That's not to say the Red Elephants are sizing up championship rings already -- far from it. In fact, considering that Gainesville competes in Class 6A, Worley knows that absolutely nothing is guaranteed, not even for a team that has rolled to such an impressive start to the 2018 season that includes three tournament victories and two second place finishes.

"We're in the toughest classification in the state; I mean it's ridiculous," Worley said. "You've got some incredible programs like Johns Creek, Greenbrier, Lakeside-Evans, Cambridge, Dalton, Dunwoody... But it's fun, because if you play well at that level, you know you've beaten the best in the state."

Taking on that level of competition is the stated goal for Gainesville over the next few weeks as it preps to play for a shot at state.

"We're ramping it up from here on in; we're facing some really good fields on some really good courses," said Worley, whose team travels to White Columns Golf Club in Milton for the Cambridge Cup on Wednesday.

Even for a squad that features experienced depth -- including seniors Ryan Hogan (UNG commit), Davis Weaver (UNG commit), AD Winston (2017 Tommy Aaron Award winner for low stroke average) and Brody Simmons (Wallace State commit) -- Gainesville is curious to see how it stacks up.

"We're still learning how to manage ourselves -- the mental game and emotions on the course -- but they attack their weaknesses really well in practice," Worley said. "And our four seniors are all good leaders. The whole team is fun to be around. Chemistry is vital in golf; people don't think about that but it is. You're out there for five hours and you have to play through good shots and bad shots, so to have other guys out there you know you can count on if you're having a bad day, or even just to give some encouragement as you pass on the course, is a big deal."

That chemistry has helped younger players like sophomore Zayne Hilderbrand and freshman Andrew Hughes to slide into starting positions and become immediate contributors. 

"Everybody is supporting everybody, and that allows us to build from the bottom up; that's always been our philosophy," Worley said. "There's also a ton of competition for spots -- Andrew Hughes barely qualified (to play for Gainesville's top team) and then ended up individual Hall County champ earlier this season. 

"We like for our guys to get comfortable being uncomfortable on the course. Hopefully that will also pay off in big tournaments."

That certainly includes the 6A Area 2 Championships on April 30 at Bartram Trail Golf Club in Evans, where the top five teams will advance to this year's 6A state tournament May 21-22 at Jekyll Island Golf Club.

"(Bartram Trail) has been a tough course for us at some state tournaments, but this group has shown it can battle and is willing grind," Worley said. "We know it won't be easy, but I'm hopeful for this group.

"We just want to have a chance and be relevant."

Certainly Gainesville has been more than relevant so far this season.

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Golf: Red Elephants hopeful after strong start but focused only on improving
Gainesville High golf has nurtured and produced some impressive talent through the decades, including seven state championship squads.
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