Walters guides Central golf team to goals in 2015

Jeff Walters Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Sitting in a golf cart on Bryce Resort’s course in early August, Central golf coach Jeff Walters looked out over a group of Falcons milling around the first tee box before the start of practice and began detailing the goals he had for his team in the upcoming season.

The final item on that list, the ultimate goal, was to take his team to the regional tournament, something the Falcons hadn’t accomplished since the 2011 season.

By season’s end the Falcons had checked off everything on that list, including that regional appearance. Walters, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Golf Coach of the Year, led Central to a Conference 35 tournament championship and, in turn, a trip to the Region 2A East competition at Kiskiack Golf Club in Williamsburg in October.

“It’s been a while since we were conference champs and went as the first seed, so really excited about that,” Walters said recently. “And we went through a little bit of turmoil during the season … so we had guys who really had to step up into the lineup and perform.”

Thought hit by a couple injuries and the transfer of two promising young golfers early in the season, the Falcons’ experience ultimately shone through in the fall season. Led by a core of returning veteran golfers in seniors Joseph Plauger and Corey Sibert and sophomores Luke Estep and Coy Jimenez, Central found its rhythm late in the season, eventually winning the Conference 35 title by nine strokes over runner-up Clarke County.

“We said right from the beginning of the year, we’re not a team that’s gonna compete at the state level right now, but we set our goal as I thought that was something that if we really performed up to our capabilities that we would have a shot at,” Walters said of the conference championship. “They knew that was the focus all year. When you’re in a golf season you’re playing the regular season matches, they mean something, but the tournament at the end’s the one that means something. So I tried to prepare them for, ‘This is our goal at the end.'”

A self-proclaimed “average golfer” who focuses most of his coaching on the mental part of the game rather than the technical aspect, Walters has long fed his players the idea that if you are shooting a bad round, shoot the best bad round you possibly can, and the Falcons’ adherence to that philosophy likely played a key role in their conference championship.

That late September day at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal, golfers had to fight through pouring rain, and Walters said his group was the most resilient to that adversity of any of the tournament’s five teams.

“When we played in the conference tournament, it was terrible weather but I was so jacked watching my guys – no umbrellas. No umbrellas,” Walters said. “I mean they had them, they didn’t use them. And Joseph Plauger said before that match we’re gonna let the rain affect everyone else, we’re not gonna let the rain affect us mentally. And I’m telling you what, it did affect the other people. Just having that mindset really helped our guys, so that was impressive.”

As a team Central couldn’t extend that postseason run beyond Williamsburg – the Falcons placed fourth as a team in the regional meet, two spots out of a state-qualifying bid – but Plauger did manage to qualify for his second straight state tournament.

Plauger, who won the Conference 35 individual title, tied for third place in the Region 2A East competition, then ended his final high school season by firing a two-day total of 162 at the Group 2A tournament at Golden Eagle Golf Club in Irvington, a mark good for seventh overall.

Walters called Sibert a valuable team leader who worked hard to improve in his final high school season and both Jimenez and Estep steady young players, but the coach said all of Central’s success this past season started with Plauger.

“He set the tone and I think just having him around for other guys to be able watch him prepare to play and how he handles himself when adversity happens on the golf course (was important),” Walters said.

Walters, the son of former longtime Central coach Jerry Walters, grew up around golf, a sport his father coached at the school for over 20 years. Watching his father over the years taught Walters to keep everything light for his players.

“I want it to be fun, that’s the first thing,” Walters said. “And he approached every sport that way that he coached, whether it was cross country or basketball or even in his classroom, and golf. If it’s not fun, don’t do it. And so I want it to be fun. I want it to be structured but I want it to be fun.”

That ideology has bred a growing interest in Central’s golf program. Walters said the Falcons had 17 golfers each day at practice this season, and he’s already heard more students express interest in joining the team next season.

“That part’s rewarding to me,” Walters said. “The winning and losing is irrelevant to me.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com