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A cut above the rest: Rams’ Davis secures berth in state field

By Brian Eller beller@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL — Forget about being nervous on the golf course. Don’t bother worrying about driving that tee shot, or sinking that putt on the 18th green. Those pressure situations are child’s play. The real nerves take over at the clubhouse.

Derek Davis knows the feeling. After finishing his round, the Strasburg senior was reduced to pacing around the scoreboard, watching and waiting for other scores to come in, scores that would determine his fate.

He had reason to be confident, for sure. After opening up with an impressive front nine, Davis played his way to a 79, at the time one of the top scores in Tuesday’s Region B tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. But there were still plenty of golfers out on the course, plenty of scores still to come in. For Davis and his family, the nerves were in full force.

“It almost makes you sick,” Davis said. “Me and my family were just waiting there, biting our nails, looking at all of the scores coming in saying, ‘Oh, I beat this guy.’ It’s nerve-racking.”

While Davis’ 79 had him in good position to advance to the Group A state championship as an individual, Strasburg had already dropped from the top two lowest team scores, meaning if Davis wasn’t going to states as an individual, he wasn’t going at all.

Slowly the scores trickled in, four at a time as each quartet of golfers checked in. Each time the scores were good, but Davis remained in the top six. Finally, the last set of scores was tallied. Davis’ 79 made the cut. He was moving on. His score of 79 helped him advance to state tournament, joining regional winner Chatham, Randolph-Henry and five other individuals in the event next week. For the Rams, it’s their first state contender since Jon Weitman in 2004-05. For Davis, however, it’s the culmination of his final season at Strasburg.

“I’m smiling from cheek to cheek,” Davis said, managing to still retain the grin. “This really means a lot. I’ve worked hard and everything went right for me today. My short game and my putts were really good and I did a good job on the front nine, so I’m happy to be moving on.”

While most other golfers struggled on the front nine, Davis used those holes to drop his overall score. His 37 was the second-lowest score of the tournament, one shot behind Chatham’s Camden Shelton’s 36. The irregular high scores on the front nine were thanks to a particularly difficult pin placement on No. 5 White hole. The pin had been placed at the top of a hill, forcing golfers to hit their putts with just enough force to climb the hill, but keep the ball from rolling back down on the other side. Davis, meanwhile, didn’t have that problem.

“That was a tough placement, definitely. You’d putt it up and the ball would roll back down to where you had just putt it from,” Davis said. “For me, I was able to two-putt it and move on.”

From there, Davis moved to the back nine, where a minor slip-up nearly turned into a disastrous day for the senior. Following a birdie, Davis rattled off three straight double bogeys on holes 2, 3 and 4, leaving his confidence in question. A par on No. 5 Blue helped him get back on track, however, giving him a 42 on the final nine holes.

But while Davis escaped No. 5 White without much damage, the same can’t be said for Stonewall Jackson’s Russell Hill. The senior, who finished the day with an 83, had to four-putt his way into the cup, a tough break that would hurt a lot more later in the day.

With the Generals out of contention as a team, Hill’s team-leading 83 was also good enough to move him on to states at the time of his score. Coincidentally, his 83 was matched by several other golfers, including district rival Central’s David Hoye, meaning if 83 were to be low enough to make the cut, there would be a several-man playoff to determine who would advance.

Unfortunately for Hill and Hoye, they wouldn’t get a chance to have a playoff. As more scores came in, it was clear an 83 would be too high to advance. In the end, Hill and Hoye’s scores were two strokes off the cut.

“I thought we had a terrific year,” Stonewall Jackson coach Roger Wilkins said despite his team’s finish. “We knew we had a lot of talent coming back in Tyler [Barb], Hunter [Mason] and Coleman [Johnson], but Russell really gave us that extra boost and I’m proud of the way our guys performed throughout the season. [Our goal] was certainly to make it to regionals, and maybe with a little luck go to states. That didn’t happen, but I’m still pleased with the season we had.”

The season may be over for most, but not Davis. He’ll have one more tournament to finish off his high school golf career. It’s a good thing, too, because Davis just isn’t ready to stop playing.

“I don’t want to stop,” Davis said, laughing. “I’m ready to go back out there and give it my best at states and see what happens. I’m not done yet, though.”