By EDDIE SOUTHARDS
Stanhope Johnson did not let a hand injury or a hot teammate stop him from winning the state 1-A golf championship for the second straight year.
Johnson shot a 31 on the back nine at Keith Hills Country Club to lead Bishop McGuinness to its second straight team title. Johnson made eight birdies, including the last three holes, and shot 68 in the final round to edge teammate William Whitacre by one shot.
“It feels great to win it two years in a row after finishing second my freshman and sophomores years,” said Johnson, who is a senior.
The Villains shot a team score of 578, just two strokes over par, which is a state record in 1-A. They won by a whopping 52 strokes over Lake Norman Charter. The team won by 48 shots last year and one of their goals was to win by a larger margin in 2012.
Johnson was not even sure he could play in the state championship after breaking a bone in his right hand while on a spring break trip to Disney World in April. He admitted, “I was doing something stupid,” when he got injured. However, he played the next two school matches.
But the swelling and the pain didn’t go away. He finally went to a doctor who discovered the break in the bone leading to his pinkie finger.
Johnson missed the conference championship and the 1-A West Regional. He was only cleared to play just days before the state championship.
Johnson entered the final round at Keith Hills trailing Whitacre by four shots. Whitacre made seven birdies in the first round and shot 67, his career low.
Then Johnson faced even more of an uphill battle when he hit his tee shot out of bounds on the fifth hole for a triple bogey.
“I honestly thought I was out of it because I thought William was going to pull away,” Johnson said. “But something motivated me. I thought I could still win if I shoot 30 or something on the back. I almost did it, so it was clutch.”
Whitacre shot 73 in the second round and finished at 140.
Johnson’s putter got hot down the stretch. He knocked in a 30-foot birdie putt on 16 and a 15-footer at 17. He tried to reach the par-5 18th hole in two but came up short in the bunker. He chunked the next shot onto the fringe and was 25 feet from the hole.
“I just trusted my line and tried to hit it hard,” he said. “It went right dead center in the hole. I had no idea that putt was for the win.”
Johnson shot 71-68 for a 139 total.
It was a bittersweet finish for Whitacre, also a senior. He was happy for the team win but a little disappointed he lost the individual title.
“I’m glad I lost to a teammate but it doesn‘t feel good,” he said. “If I could have picked anyone here to beat me, it would have been Stanhope.”
Bishop coach Pearse Mahon said this was the best team he has had in his five years at the school.
“I’m ecstatic, I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “I have three seniors leaving this year and it was emotional to see them finish their careers at Bishop. Stanhope and William finished their careers in style.”
Sophomore Tanner Owen also had an outstanding tournament, shooting 74-70 to finish in fourth place in the individual competition.
“When you have some good players like Tanner and Stanhope, it takes the pressure off the other players and lets them play their game,” Mahon said. “If they know their score is always going to be counted, it puts more pressure on them.”
Zack Shields, who shot 77-86, and Jonathan Davis (81-78) return next season to try and help the Villains make it three titles in a row.
“There’s going to be a lot of changes but we are bringing some good talent back,” Mahon said. “There are a couple of freshmen I have, too. We’ll have a strong team back.”
Johnson will attend N.C. State on a golf scholarship and plans to enroll early this summer. But he plans to enter a couple of big amateur events, The Cardinal Amateur and the FJ Junior Invitational, with his eye on a bigger prize. If he wins either event, he would qualify for the Wyndham Championship, the PGA Tour stop in Greensboro in August.
Whitacre also will attend N.C. State but he doesn’t plan to play golf.
“I’m going to keep playing club golf but the commitment to play college golf is a lot,” he said. “I want to just focus on my studies. I plan to major in business.”
East Surry finished third in the team standings with a 640 total. Jordan Vogler led the team with two rounds of 76 for a 152 total. Joseph Marion posted 162 and Andrew Millsaps and Drew Alley carded 163.
Cody Hodges of Mount Airy shot 74-78 and Keenan Denny of South Stokes had 73-79, both for 152 totals. They tied for eighth place, competing as individuals.
Five of the 12 teams in the field were charter or parochial schools, a growing trend in 1-A golf.
“I think it ebbs and flows,” Mahon said. “It’s not like football where you need 20 good players. If you have three or four good players who come in the same year, you can pretty much dominate for their tenure.”