Charlotte Country Day takes slim lead in S.C.

Joey Simonds and La Quinta High School are just one shot off the lead entering the final round of the Palmetto High School Championship.

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – If there’s a theme this week at the Palmetto High School Championship, it’s that in a high school event, leads can be gained and lost in one fell swoop. As coaches and players walked off the 18th green Friday at Prestwick Country Club, most merely shook their heads and acknowledged that entering Saturday’s final round a few shots ahead or a few shots behind doesn’t mean much.

Scores rose across the board Thursday at Prestwick, where the course played more than 600 yards longer than either of the qualifying-round courses at Barefoot Resort. Quick, undulating greens and pins tucked into the ridges and crowns also contributed to the frustration for many players.

Bob Robinson, head coach at Charlotte (N.C.) Latin High School, called it a “humbling” round as he watched his team fall to 13th out of the 16 teams in the Championship Flight. Charlotte Latin turned in the fourth-best score during Thursday’s qualifying round, at 15-over 303.

Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day School is at the top of a tight leaderboard after a 17-over 305. La Quinta (Calif.) High School, which blew the rest of the field out of the water Thursday with a 6-under 282 in the qualifying round, is one shot back in second. Forestview High School (Gastonia, N.C.) is tied with defending champion Pinewood Prep (S.C.) for third at 20-over 308.

“That can change over the first hole,” Pinewood coach Greg Baechtle said of the packed leaderboard.

The individual race is equally tight, as Pinewood’s Richard Hubbard and Charlotte Country Day’s Stuart McGoogan are tied at even-par 72. Miles Curley, of South Pointe (Fort Mill, S.C.) High School, and Jason Woodall, of Morehead High School (Eden, N.C.), are next at 1-over 73. Billy Shuman, of Frederica Academy (St. Simons Island, Ga.), is alone in fifth, another shot back.

The leaders were six shots higher Friday than in Thursday’s round, when La Quinta’s Joey Simonds rode a hot putter to a 6-under 66, four shots better than his previous personal best.

“I was putting really good yesterday, and the course was playing really short and I had my wedges going,” Simonds explained.

Simonds carded a 7-over 79 Friday, but teammates Mark Hicks and Tad Murray picked up the slack for La Quinta, shooting 4-over 76 for a share of sixth place. La Quinta blew the rest of the field away in Thursday’s qualifying round with a 6-under 282. La Quinta coach Joe Simonds was pleased with the team’s performance regardless, and recognized that it’s tough to back up such stellar play, especially in the case of his son Joey’s sizzling 66.

“He probably grinded as much as anybody out there today,” Simonds said of a difficult day of golf on a long course. “They were shooting cannons out there and they weren’t getting to the greens, so it was a lot different.”

Simonds likes where his team sits entering the final round as it chases its first Palmetto title in four years. Baechtle is thinking the same thing. Pinewood won wire-to-wire last year, but it wasn’t without final-round heroics. On his way to the individual title, Austin Cody posted an even-par 72 at Pawley’s Plantation, a course PGA Tour player Zach Johnson is said to have played three days later in the same windy conditions and posted 78.

Baechtle tells the story like a proud father, while Cody’s teammates still tell it with a hint of awe. It’s a tale that fits in well with Pinewood’s repertoire, which also includes the time they made up six shots in the final three holes to win a state championship.

The way Baechtle figures, seniors Cody (75) and Lushen Evans (81) will bounce back from difficult rounds and be a major factor Saturday. Cody is thinking the same thing.

“It was a bit of a struggle,” said Cody, who is T-6. “I missed way too many putts. I hit the ball fine but I feel like if I hit it as good as I did today, tomorrow I could shoot a good number.”

The 16 teams in Championship Flight will contest the final round at Lion’s Paw Golf Club in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

• • •

FLIGHT NEWS: Each of the four flights played a different course Friday after qualifying on the Barefoot Resort Dye and Love courses Thursday.

Academic Magnet High School (North Charleston, S.C.) leads the First Flight at 27-over 315 at Pawley’s Plantation – said to be the most difficult venue in this week’s 10-course rotation – with Chapin (S.C.) High School in second, 12 shots back.

The Cannon School (Concord, N.C.) is at the top of the Second Flight leaderboard after Round 1 at 34-over 250 at Tradition Golf Club. Greendale (Wis.) High School is second at 46-over 334.

In the Third Flight, played at True Blue Golf Club, Niagara District Secondary School (Bath, Ontario) leads by six with a 72-over 360. Charlotte Latin’s B team is tied with Chapin High Schools’ B team for second at 78-over 366.

• • •

photo

Dru Love reads a putt at the Palmetto High School Championship.

LOOKING FAMILIAR: Among the notable names in the 276-player field at the Palmetto High School Championship is Dru Love, the 16-year-old son of PGA Tour player Davis Love III, and a sophomore at Frederica Academy in St. Simons Island, Ga.

Always quick to fist-bump an opponent or raise a fist in the air to pump up a teammate from across a fairway, Love also has proved this week that he has game. He shot even-par 72 at the Barefoot Resort Dye Course (where he was slated to play Thursday, instead of ending up down the street at the Love Course designed by his dad and uncle) to lead his team to a 10th-place finish and a Championship Flight berth. Love struggled on a breezy day at Prestwick Country Club, finishing at 15-over 87.

Frederica enters the final round in 12th at 45-over 333.

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