La Quinta High prevails in Palmetto playoff

La Quinta High School celebrates their playoff win at the Palmetto High School Championship.

La Quinta High School celebrates their playoff win at the Palmetto High School Championship.

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Players gather around the scoreboard at the end of the Palmetto High School Championship.

OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. – When Alfred Castro dropped a 5-footer for par at the 10th hole late Saturday afternoon, the noise came back. Three La Quinta (Calif.) High players leaped to their feet from just off the green, knowing that par meant they had captured the team title, and coach Joe Simonds could breathe again. La Quinta and playoff opponent Forestview High School (Gastonia, N.C.) had been silent in concentration as the quest for the Palmetto High School Championship entered extra holes.

“That’s pretty stressful,” Simonds said after the playoff, watching his five seniors take it all in just a few feet away. “These guys came through.”

La Quinta shot 11-over 299 in the final round of the Palmetto, played at Lion’s Paw Golf Links, to climb from second entering Saturday’s round to a share of the lead with Forestview. The teams then entered a sudden-death playoff at the 10th hole, a 375-yard par 4 with trees to the left and a creek twisting through the middle.

Castro, who finished third in the individual race at 2-over 146, contributed the fourth par for the California school as Forestview counted three pars and a bogey. After claiming the Palmetto title, La Quinta has a pretty atypical celebration planned.

“We’re having a ceremonial water burial of (Mark Hicks’) putter tonight,” Simonds said.

The subject of Hicks’ putter, a $30 bargain found at the local K-Mart, sends the La Quinta team into laughter, fist-bumping and general hysteria. Hicks, who will play at Tulsa next fall, purchased the putter earlier in the week on a whim, but quickly switched back to his faithful Scotty Cameron, leaving his teammates with yet another topic of laughter, not to mention a good post-tournament activity for “Mr. Tulsa.”

It’s jokes like those that show how close the team really is. All five seniors grew up on the golf course together, and know one another’s games well enough that a playoff caused little pressure.

“When we go to play, we play to win,” Hicks said. “It’s as simple as that. We know we’re all good players.”

The five seniors have had a week to remember on the East Coast, and a win at the super-sized high school tournament is a good memory to take home. The team playoff, which was a new experience for La Quinta, might be the best part about it. Simonds’ only advice to his players as they stood on the 10th tee box was to relax, and they took those words to heart.

La Quinta has been on the radar since Thursday’s qualifying round, in which the team dove six shots under par and beat the next-best team, defending champion Pinewood Prep (Summerville, S.C.), by 17 shots. Simonds calls his squad more of a “295 team,” but also sings the praises of his five seniors, which includes his son, Joey.

“Everything I ask these guys to do, they do,” Simonds said. “They’re just great kids.”

Though Forestview fell short of the title, the team turned in its lowest score in the final round to jump from a tie for third to a share of the lead. Head coach Ken Beaty looks at the experience as good preparation for the upcoming postseason.

“This experience is going to be great for us going into our regionals and our state tournament, because all of our matches are 18 holes except our state tournament,” Beaty said. “This is exactly like a state tournament.”

Forestview also claimed the individual medalist in junior Taylor Dickson. Dickson, coming off his first win in an FCWT event last month, finished at 1-over 145 with South Pointe High School’s (Fort Mills, S.C.) Miles Curley, who held a share of the lead after an even-par 72 in Round 1. Dickson turned in the low round of the day at Lion’s Paw, recording three birdies and just one bogey on his way to a 2-under 70. Dickson was named the individual medalist after a scorecard playoff.

“The putter wasn’t working yesterday,” Dickson said of his rebound from a first-round 75. “It started working today.”

Curley was on his way to the 10th tee for an individual playoff when he was informed that a scorecard playoff would be conducted instead. The dejection showing on his face, Curley said he figured his chances were pretty good as his playoff record stands at 3-0.

“I hit my driver really well,” said Curley, who ended the day with a 3-under 33. “The putter didn’t help me a lot. I missed some putts, but besides that I played really well.”

South Pointe finished third in the team race at 36-over 612, with first-round leader Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day another shot back. Defending champion Pinewood Prep was in fifth at 42-over 618.

Austin Cody, Pinewood’s star player and last year’s individual champion, was fourth at 3-over 147. Five players, including La Quinta’s Mark Hicks, were tied for fifth at 5-over 149.

• • •

CROSS-COUNTRY MATCH: La Quinta has just won the Palmetto High School Championship title. What will they do next? (Hint: They’re not going to Disney World.) Play a friendly match with Palm Desert High School, a rival from back home in California that also made the trek to Myrtle Beach. Palm Desert finished sixth in the team race, 25 shots behind La Quinta.

The two schools, coaches included, will tee it up at the Wild Dunes Golf Resort on Easter Sunday for a Ryder Cup-style match. When’s the next time they’ll go head-to-head? A week from Monday, when both teams have returned to California.

• • •

LONG ROUND: The No. 1 handicap hole at Lion’s Paw Golf Links created some pace-of-play problems during Saturday’s final round. That hole, a dogleg par 4, just happens to be the first hole, and got the day off to a slow start.

By the time the final group showed up for its 9:46 tee time, there already was a half-hour delay. As players from the First Flight, which had started on the 10th hole, made the turn, the crowd continued to grow. Five groups from the First Flight were backed up on the hole before all players in Championship Flight had teed off.

To make matters worse, the No. 3 handicap hole is the third hole. Some players struggled with the 178-yard par 3 that featured water in front of the green and a pin placed on a side hill at the back of the green. By the time the final group reached No. 3, three groups were on the hole.

Pinewood Prep coach Greg Baechtle, whose team played in the final groups in Championship Fight, said it’s something his team should be used to.

“We got around in six hours,'' Baechtle said. "That’s about what I would have expected.''

• • •

FLIGHT NEWS: Academic Magnet High School (North Charleston, S.C.) won the First Flight with a 60-over 636. Diamond Bar (Calif.) was second, six shots back. First-round leader Davis Womble, of Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.), won the individual title by nine shots after finishing at even par 144.

Cannon School (Concord, N.C.) took a commanding win in the Second Flight, beating Greer (S.C.) High School by 18 shots. Greer’s Ryan Lynn moved from a tie for second after Round 1 to the top spot, finishing at 8-over 152.

In the Third Flight, Niagara District Secondary School (Niagara on the Lake, Ontario) shot 122-over 698 to claim the team title over Chapin (S.C.) High School. Nate Butcher of Millville (N.J.) High School and Brandon Twigg of Asheville (N.C.) High School finished tied at 14-over 158.

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