Handley's Thome leads local golfers at Licklider; James Wood ties for 8th

FRONT ROYAL — A familiar last name made its way to the top of the local leaderboard at the 22nd Curly Licklider Memorial Golf Invitational on Wednesday.

Handley junior Sam Thome — the younger brother of 2022 Handley graduate and 2021 Winchester Star Golfer of the Year Jack Thome — shot a 7-over-par 77 (tied for 16th out of 177 golfers) and was the only Winchester-Frederick County golfer to break 80 at Bowling Green Country Club’s South Course, where he’s a partial member. Clarke County junior Hunter Breece had the second-best score among locals with a 78 and tied for 24th.

Loudoun County won the 31-team tournament, which counts all six scores for each team instead of taking the typical best four scores, with a 462. Woodgrove was second with a 467. Loudoun County senior Nick Alexander won by two strokes with a 2-under 68, beating a group of three players who tied for second at 70.

James Wood tied for eighth overall with a 500, Handley was 13th (524), Sherando finished 23rd (582), Millbrook took 25th (631) and Clarke County placed 27th (658).

The annual tournament was moved to Bowling Green because of course work that prevented Shenandoah Valley Golf Club from being ready in time for the Licklider. The SVGC typically sends every team out at once because there are 27 holes to use, but with only 18 holes available at Bowling Green, schools were sent off in two flights. All five local teams competed in the morning flight, which featured 16 teams.

On the ride to the tournament Wednesday morning, Handley coach Troy Mezzatesta asked Thome to share what he knew about Bowling Green’s South Course, because it isn’t a course that Winchester or Frederick County schools typically play. Thome tries to play at Bowling Green at least once a month, and he showed he knew how to attack the course.

“I know the course somewhat well, so it helped out there,” said Thome, who mostly plays at Rock Harbor Golf Course. “I didn’t have a single birdie out there, and I had two three-putts. I didn’t feel like I was playing that well, but when I did miss, I missed small. I was able to course manage pretty well.”

Thome said on the 366-yard par-4 No. 10, he hit well into the trees, but he scrambled to make bogey. On the 351-yard hole No. 1, Thome hit a 66-yard approach that set him up for a short putt.

Thome — who opened his season with a 79 in Monday’s Class 4 Northwestern District mini at Blue Ridge Shadows — feels he can handle adversity better this year after playing significantly more tournament golf leading up to his junior year compared to his sophomore season.

“I was able to get my mental game stronger to where I wouldn’t blow up after a bad hole. I feel I’m hitting a little longer, too,” said Thome, who believes he is about 5 feet, 11 inches tall now after growing close to three inches. “I feel like I’m a much better player than last year.”

The Judges were also led by junior Jag Fitzsimmons (81), his twin brother Dash Fitzsimmons (87) and junior Jackson Bouder (88).

“We’re just trying to play a little smarter, so we talked about that,” Mezzatesta said. “We’re still working through the mentality of being tough. No one hole is going to win or lose a tournament, but holding onto a bad score could lose a tournament or round for you.

“That’s the side we’ve got to work on. They’ve put in all the work. They’re amazing. They work hard. But we’ve got to go out and realize that golf is not a game of being perfect.”

Thome feels good about the potential of the Judges, who won Monday’s Class 4 Northwestern District mini by 11 strokes over Kettle Run (346) and 12 over James Wood (347). Those two teams bounced back pretty well on Wednesday, with Kettle Run (499) edging James Wood by a stroke.

The Colonels definitely showed their depth on Wednesday. Sophomore Brayden Rockwell led James Wood and placed second overall with a 78 on Monday. On Wednesday, he shot a 90, but his five teammates picked him up by each shooting between 81 and 84. The lone senior, Drake Reese, shot an 81, as did sophomore Jake Bursey (81). Junior Braeden Crawford and sophomore Zach Woskobunik each shots 82s and sophomore Lauren Van Horn shot an 84.

“I was really pleased,” James Wood coach David Oates said. “Lauren, that was her first match. She shot an 84 even though she triple-bogeyed the last few holes, so they were all playing pretty well.

“We’re going to get better. I’ve got eight or nine kids that are vying for playing time right now. I think where we’re right where we want to be right now.”

Reese was pleased with his play after shooting a 98 on Monday.

“I’ve been working hard on trying to shoot one type of shot (a fade), and it really just kept me in play,” Reese said. “I hit a couple of shots that went out of bounds, and I paid for it, but besides that I played well.

“[Today], I kept my mind in the game. Even when I had a bad hole, that helped me move on from it and come back.”

Breece — who is coming off a sophomore season in which he qualified for the Class 2 state tournament — said he played much better on Wednesday than he had in his previous two trips at Bowling Green in the past three months. Breece said he had four or five birdies.

“Keeping stuff straight definitely helps with how short the holes are,” Breece said. “Number 11 was a driveable par-4 (266 yards). It was a little left, but it ended up being hole high and I stuck my chip from 20 yards out close. That hole was a big confidence-booster.

“It definitely helps [my confidence] that I’ve reached the highest point [by making the state tournament]. I just need to do it again, and do better.”

Clarke County coach Phil Facemire liked what he saw from his team. “They’re all getting better, and I’m loving it,” he said.

Millbrook is undergoing a rebuilding phase after losing five of it top six golfers from last year. The one returner, junior Rich Pell, is off to a strong start. After shooting an 83 in Monday’s mini tournament, he followed up with an 81 on Wednesday.

“It’s cool that I can be the leader, but I also want to make the people like the freshmen better so that when I’m gone, they can take over,” Pell said. “I’m just trying to set a good example. If I hit a bad shot, don’t so something dumb that would make them think it’s OK to do that.”

Pell said he had good stretches and bad stretches on Wednesday, and he birdied one of the par-4s on the front nine as well as the par-3, 128-yard 17th.

“I started on 16 with a par, and then I stuck it close on 17 and had a tap-in for birdie, so that got me going,” Pell said.

Sophomore Isaiah Doeden led Sherando with an 88.

“We’re young,” said Sherando first-year coach Paul Gerometta, whose team counts four sophomores and a freshmen among its top golfers. “They’re going to get better and better, but they’re not tournament-tough yet. I’m fortunate in that I’ve got three years to work with them.

“So far, it’s been a great experience. The kids are wonderful. I couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of kids.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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