By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Layne Rice is heading back to the state golf tournament. But this time, he’s taking the rest of the Cold Springs golf team, too.
The Eagle No. 1 tackled an extremely difficult TP Country Club course to snag his latest low-medalist honor, propelling Cold Springs to a runner-up result at the Class 1A-2A North 4 Sub-State Tournament and its first state appearance in school history.
Holy Spirit turned in four solid scores to win with a 333, edging the Eagles by 10 strokes and third-place Decatur Heritage by 38.
“We’re so excited. I felt like we had a good shot of making it the entire time since we were so close last year,” coach Adam McKinnon said of his Cold Springs squad missing out by just two strokes in 2012. “I guess you kind of get here and get to the point where we really wanted to win today, but qualifying was the goal to start with, so I guess we’ll take it.”
Even though Rice had completed 14 holes before rain brought play to a screeching halt on Monday, he was one of the biggest proponents of beginning from scratch the following day. Based on his final score, Rice sure was thankful to have a fresh start. Only two golfers even came within six strokes of the junior’s 78 — teammate Tristan Williams and Holy Spirit’s Jon Dever.
“It feels great going into state knowing I’m playing good,” said Rice, who was also the low-medalist at last week’s sectional tourney. “Hopefully I can give it a run and win state — and win state as a team, too.”
Rounding out the Eagles were Michael Gilliland, 87, as well as Nick Speer and Kevin Harris, who both carded 94s.
McKinnon was thrilled to see his two seniors, Gilliland and Speer, presented with the opportunity to advance after all the work they’ve put in during their prep golf careers.
“I’m extremely happy for those guys,” the coach said. “They’ve been playing since the eighth and ninth grade.”
Soggy conditions and extended tees were to thank for high scores all across the board. No hole was more challenging than the 14th, a par 3 playing 212 yards from a make-shift tee box not far from the edge of the water. With out of bounds lurking on the left and a bunker sitting on the right, many golfers were forced to try their luck at being accurate with their woods and hybrids.
The key word was try, as less than a handful of players were successful in reaching the green.
“Patrick (Drake) had to be mean and move the tees all the way back,” Rice said with a laugh, referring to TP’s director of golf. “It was real tough, just crazy.”
Lee Mattox stood with his teammates and a restless group of Cullman parents, anxiously awaiting his team’s state fate as Drake penned the scores of the final three 5A golfers on the far-right window panes of the TP clubhouse.
Before the ink could even dry, one Bearcat mom whipped out her cell phone and used the calculator to add up the totals for Russellville, Hartselle and Athens.
With a 323, Russellville had clinched the sub-state championship. With a 331, Hartselle had secured runner-up status. And with a 342, Athens was left on the outside looking in — because Cullman had already posted a 335, just enough to move on as a unit with a third-place result.
Mattox first relayed the news to his dad, then walked across the room to tell a few of Cold Springs’ golfers before finally letting out a huge sigh of relief right in the middle of the clubhouse floor.
“I feel an incredible amount of joy,” said Mattox, who played up from his No. 3 position to lead the Bearcats with an 80. “I can’t explain how happy I am right now, because I haven’t played good all year, and we really haven’t gotten it together, just to get the chance to go to state and maybe prove it at the end.”
While Rice gladly erased Monday’s scorecard, Mattox wouldn’t have minded picking up where he left off when the rain came pouring down. He had made the turn at even par and was clearly on pace to turn in an even better round than he did on Tuesday.
None of that mattered to Mattox when all was said and done. Not even a little bit.
“Personally, it wasn’t that great for me,” he said of having to start the tournament all over. “But I think it helped out some of my teammates, so it’s all for the best.”
Colby Sandlin and Sylas Elliott were hot on Mattox’s toes with rounds of 81 and 82, respectively. Conner Stevens contributed a 92, while Garrett Crider brought up the rear with a 105.
“They’ve worked hard all year,” Black and Gold coach Ches Harris said. “To see that hard work start to pay off, I’m very proud of them.”
Cold Springs, Cullman, Good Hope’s Eli Marty and Holly Pond’s Colby Adams will all head to Muscle Shoals next Monday and Tuesday for their respective state tournaments. After persevering to survive a treacherous TP golf course, Harris feels the Bearcats will be better prepared for whatever The Shoals throws their way.
“This golf course was set up with the exact same pin placements for the mini-tour event last summer,” the coach said of TP. “The kids probably won’t see a golf course too much more difficult.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.