Asked to rank the degree of difficulty of the Anderson Creek Golf Club course that was the site of Saturday's NJCAA Region X men's golf tournament on a scale of one to 10, Sandhills Community College Coach Gus Ulrich didn't hesitate before providing an answer.
"It's a 9.99, definitely," the veteran of PGA and Champion's tour events, and Director of Instruction at Pinewild Country Club, said. "The firmness of the turf and greens, the wind and tough pin placements made it a real good test. The kids hung in there.
"A couple of them struggled pretty badly, but Will righted the ship nicely and played a solid round. We pulled together enough to get the job done."
Sophomore Will Lewis shot rounds of 80 at the Country Club of Whispering Pines on Friday and 78 at Anderson Creek to finish two strokes behind Chris Brown of Central Carolina CC (75-81-156) in the battle for medalist honors. The Flyers all but clinched the team's seventh trip to the NJCAA Division III national tournament in the nine years of the golf program on Friday by taking a 28 stroke lead over the Cougars after the first day in the two-team competition.
The Flyers now have seven weeks to get ready for the national event that will again be held at Chautauqua Golf Club in western New York on June 6-9 where the team won a national title in 2014 and earned runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2015. The week includes three days of practice rounds followed by four days of tournament golf.
In past years the team has made a side-trip to Niagara Falls on the way home.
"That is a fun experience," said Lewis who made the trip last year along with teammate Josh Guy when the Flyers finished eighth. "I like the fact that we've got time to work on all parts of our games."
Lewis and freshman Evan Johnson posted rounds of 80, freshman Trent Waitley had an 82, and Guy and freshman Gage Masters came in with 84's to help provide the nice cushion after Friday's round. Fighting off a sinus infection, Johnson closed to within a stroke of Brown on Saturday before faltering at the turn. Waitley also ran into major trouble around the midway point of the round.
""I was just trying to play through it and have fun," Johnson said in a hoarse voice afterward.
Lewis caught up with Brown before his tee shot on the par three 15th hole hit the steep bank to the left of the green and came to a stop behind the trunk of a small tree with low hanging branches. In making an ambitious attempt to chip the ball close to the flag he clipped the tree and wound up with a six.
"I should have just taken my medicine," he said as he walked toward the tee at 16.
The first of the Flyers to complete his round was Masters who played in a foursome that included Waitley. The 6-foot-5 golfer from Medina, New York, a small town between Buffalo and Rochester, is in his first semester at Sandhills.
Masters became acquainted with the college when he made the two hour trip from Medina to Lake Chautauqua in 2015 to watch his cousin Brandon Grzywacz play on the Flyer team that nearly repeated as national champions.
On the par five 18th hole at Anderson Creek he looked through a range finder before taking his second shot.
"313 yards" he reported to a bystander before hitting a towering three-metal shot that cleared a daunting array of bunkers and grazed a tall tree before coming to a stop about 10-feet short of the putting surface. He chipped to about eight feet of the flag and sank the putt for the closing birdie.
Overall Guy was pleased with his second-day 80, but felt like he left a few strokes out there.
"There were some holes I didn't capitalize on," he said. "I had two birdies on the back nine, but also missed three birdie putts."
Lewis trailed Smith by three strokes stroke going to 18. He picked up a stroke with a par while Brown was finishing with a bogey. The medalist honor also earns Smith a trip to New York.
"It's a really tough course," Lewis said of Anderson Creek. "It's brutal."
Masters has enjoyed escaping another upstate New York winter. He estimates he has played on almost 20 courses in the short time he's been in North Carolina. His favorites are the Magnolia course at Pinewild and the Dormie Club.
"I came down for a visit and couldn't get over Pinehurst, the golf all around and the weather," he said. "You really can't find bad golf down here."
He says his teammates are counting on him to bring support from his friends and relatives to pull for the Flyers at Lake Chautauqua.
"I'm going to try to get a crowd going, but we'll see what happens."
Sandhills CC – 326-331-657 – Will Lewis 80-78-158, Josh Guy 84-80-164, Evan Johnson 80-87-167, Gage Masters 85-86-171, Trent Waitley 82-98-180; Central Carolina CC – 354-344-699 - Chris Brown 75-81-156, Dillon Fail 90-84-174, Zyczkiewicz 93-85-178, Tyler North 97-94-191, David Smith 96-103-199.
Staff Correspondent C. Bergmann