Congratulations to the South Aiken High School boys’ golf team for winning the Class AAAA state championship.
The Thoroughbreds finished the season on a roll, winning the final four tournaments in which they played. That list of victories includes the Region 5-AAAA Championship, the Southern Cross Tournament at Palmetto Golf Club, the Lower State Qualifier and the State Championship Tournament.
In those wins, South Aiken golfers showed off their skills. Players such as Ryan Carpenter, Hayden Ploeger, Alex Handy and Jake Carter all had impressive rounds that contributed to the team’s success, combining power off the tee as well as deft touch on and around the greens.
Those top four players also displayed mental toughness and grace under pressure. Golf is a taxing game for the best players in the world under the best of circumstances. Already playing in high-pressure situations, the T-Breds had to rally for victories in each of their final four tournaments.
They rallied past and then staved off a strong charge from region rival Lexington High School in the Region 5-AAAA championship played at Houndslake Country Club. That was followed by a come-from-behind win at the Southern Cross, where South Aiken not only had to overcome a Pendleton High squad that featured the top two junior golfers in South Carolina, but also nasty conditions that included constant showers, swirling wins and biting cold temperatures.
Although the T-Breds didn’t have to win the Lower State Qualifier at Sumter’s Sunset Country Club to be included in the field for the State Championship Tournament, head coach Drew Jernigan saw a determination in his team to finish at the top of the leaderboard.
“They weren’t satisfied for playing for anything other than first place,” Jernigan said after South Aiken completed the season as state champs with a final-round rally past Boiling Springs on the Furman University Golf Club in Greenville. “From May 1 to May 14, they won four golf tournaments. They played their best when it mattered most and faced every challenge put in front of them.”
No player better epitomized the team’s toughness more than Carter. Just a freshman, Carter was ailing during the state tournament, playing 54 holes in two days with a fever, swelling and discomfort because of flu-like symptoms. Carter admitted he didn’t know if he would make it to the back nine on the final day of the tournament but said his greatest challenge was keeping up with his talented teammates. He carded 76 in the final round, third-best score on the squad.
Winning the state title was especially satisfying for South Aiken after finishing third in the state tournament last year. In that event, the T-Breds actually led after 36 holes but couldn’t hold on for the victory.
This year’s team featured three key players from that squad – Carpenter, Ploeger and Handy – and they had a resolve forged from that setback to endure for the ultimate prize.
Their hard work and determination make them champions worth saluting.