Local teams off pace after first round at Gunter

By JIM LAISE SPECIAL TO THE WINCHESTER STAR | The Winchester Star

RONT ROYAL — What was it the old comic strip ‘Pogo’ read?

“We have met the enemy and [they] are us.”

Such was what Handley High School golf coach Troy Mezzatesta may have been thinking on Wednesday, when his Judges carded a four-person score of 354 on the blue and white courses at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club.

That total came in the first Northwestern District Class 4 mini-tournament of the young season.

Adding to that 18-hole result were 13 three-putt greens among all four members of the Judges.

Thursday, in the first round of the 30th annual Bryan Gunter Memorial Tournament at Shenandoah Valley, Handley’s group composed a 337.

“We know what we need to work on, at least,” said Mezzatesta following Wednesday’s result.

With that in mind, Mezzatesta, who missed a portion of Thursday’s play because of in-class responsibilities, had his golfers hang around the club Wednesday evening fine-tuning their short games.

It paid off. Not only did Handley improve on Wednesday’s score by 17 strokes, but junior Maddi Neff had her best personal round of the season — a 78. The day before she carded a 91.

The difference? Putting.

Mezzatesta said that Neff had attempted far fewer puts on Thursday compared to Wednesday’s effort.

The Handley coach had his players practice on or near the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club putting green. He also threw in a couple of exercises.

On one, with all the individuals competing, the first Judge to three-putt was eliminated. This went on until just one player was left.

“It’s pretty much a three-putt death match,” said the coach.

“We practiced our chipping and putting, then we ate a little dinner, then we went back and chipped and putted some more,” said Mezzatesta. “I wanted to get them into the habit of grinding.”

Indeed, Handley, James Wood, Sherando and Millbrook have played three rounds of golf within the last week — two cycles on back-to-back days. Today, the 12 teams in the Gunter Memorial head to the Winchester Country Club for Round 2.

Totals for the two days will be then added up to rank the teams. Players were seeded alphabetically on the first day of the Gunter. Today, they will be seeded based on Thursday’s scores.

Neff cut 13 strokes off Wednesday’s total. Meanwhile, teammate Braxton Duvall improved Wednesday’s 93 to an 88 Thursday.

“Maddi’s had a little confidence thing going, so I had to remind her she was one of our best putters. She took on that ‘death match’ and made it hers,” said Mezzatesta.

Neither Neff’s score nor that of the Judges put either in the top five, so dominating were several teams from Loudoun County and one from West Virginia.

Woodgrove leads with a 292 total, a stroke ahead of rival Loudoun County (293). Washington (W.Va.) was a shot back of the Raiders (294) and then came Loudoun Valley (297) and Dominion (322). Local Sherando and Charlottesville (330) tied for sixth place.

The Warriors shot a similar score in the Northwestern mini. Both coach Rob Wright and senior Ryan Judy were optimistic.

“I can feel a little separation. Little by little,” Judy said.

Wright admitted that his club, playing without three graduated seniors, is at a different level in this early season “and so I have to be confident with them. It was different when we had the three seniors because not only could we count on their scores, but their leadership too.”

Judy improved by six shots from Wednesday’s mini, firing a 75. He took an 85 in the Curly Licklider tournament earlier in the year.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” said Wright. “Right now, we’re all about the same so we’re looking for that one guy to kind of stand out. Ryan’s a senior; it’s his time now.”

“I’m starting to feel much more comfortable; I’m getting more into it,” added Judy. “I kind of stumbled today on a couple of the early holes, but then, after a bogey, I calmed down. It’s certainly a good feeling going into [today].”

Sherando remained generally consistent. Following Judy were Caleb Dotson, who shot and 82, and Evan Simmons, who shot an 84. Brandon Nice carded an 89.

“They’re young. They’re inexperienced. But they’re competing,” Wright said. “That’s the beauty of a tournament like this — the competition is great. I’d rather have them out here competing against these golfers [instead of] staying at home for the day.”

James Wood’s Tyler Mounts was Wednesday’s hero. Playing for the first time this season on a scholastic level, Mounts carded an area-best 1-over-par 72. Thursday, he shot an 85.

“Tyler was in a good position [playing] on Wednesday, but it’s like [I said] at the beginning of the year — consistency is the key,” Oates said. “That’s what they all need to work on.”

Even though Mounts slipped a bit in his second tournament of the year, Logan Harper improved eight shots to an 81 as James Wood totaled a 340.

Colonel freshman Carson Baker shot an 86 and sophomore Jackson Lynch tallied an 88.

Millbrook High School shot a cumulative 394 with freshman Tyler McGuire and senior Evan Argiro leading the way with a pair of 96s.

But while Handley, James Wood and Sherando were keeping their scores in the 80s, several of their opponents found ways to bunch themselves into the 70s.

For instance, Woodgrove had all four players shoot between 69 and 77 and Loudoun County, the runner-up, had four golfers score between 72 and 74.

The Wolverines’ Alex Price shot a 2-under 69 to lead the first day’s action. He was followed by teammates Jackson Soska (72), Kyle Potter (74) and Kelly Klimek (77). Washington (W.Va.) was led by Christian Boyd (72), Gavin Bonievich and Tanner Elliott (73s) and Mason Kidwell (76).

Loudoun Valley (297) was fourth.

Much interest was paid the Vikings’ senior Ryan Hammer, who carded a 1-under 70.

Hammer is the two-time champion at the Gunter.

Last year, Hammer carded a 2-under 69 on this course and then followed with a 3-under total at Winchester for another 69. That sum of 138 stood for the low medalist. He also won the same 2015 Billy G. Phillips Award for lowest score in 2015.

“I had a few three-putt greens out there but not many,” said the Loudoun Valley senior. “I played pretty good.”

Wednesday, Hammer accomplished an 8-under 64 playing at Loudoun Golf and Country Club. A Viking assistant said the school is checking its history to see if the score tops those of past Valley golfers.

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