Jay Hunt had a hunch that his 5-foot putt for bogey meant something.
Standing over the ball on the 18th green during the final round of the NCISAA 3-A state championship at Bryan Park’s Champions Course, it was a situation the Forsyth Country Day junior had rehearsed time and time again.
“I’m one of those guys that likes to stand on the practice green and say to myself ‘this one is for the win, or this one is for the state tournament,’” Hunt said. “I had a good read from one of the other players in my group, and I put a confident stroke on it. When it went in, I could hear Coach (Dennis) Ring and a few other people yell and that’s when it really hit me. I figured we had won.”
Indeed they had – with a little breathing room to spare.
Forsyth Country Day capped off a dynamic season – which also included winning the prestigious Palmetto and Tarheel invitationals – by capturing what has been an elusive state title in recent years, a period that was plagued by so many runner-up finishes. The last state title came in 2006.
Fueled by a talented junior class, the Furies overcame a two-shot deficit at the start of the final round and made plenty of clutch putts along the way to send Ring out on top.
Ring, a fixture in area athletics for more than 20 years, is moving to Alabama in June and ending his seven-year tenure at Forsyth, including the last three as the golf coach.
Eric Mitchell, despite not playing for three weeks leading up to the state tournament because of an injury, fired 74-73. Ben Schlottman, who has committed to play at Auburn, shot 78-72. Gray Townsend posted 76-77, and Hunt followed his opening round 79 with a 77 on the par-72 course.
FCD finished with 606, two shots better than runner-up Arden Christ School.
The Furies closed with 299 during the second round, eight shots better than their opening round 307.
Christ School improved its second round score by two shots, making Forsyth’s comeback win even more impressive.
“It seemed like we were all putting better on the second day,” Townsend said. “When we were all together after the round talking about things, we all realized we made a lot of 5- and 10-footers for pars. That’s huge in a tournament like this.”
Schlottman attributed his six-shot swing from the first round to second to his putting and improved iron play.
“I was incredibly frustrated after the first round,” he said. “I hit 12 fairways that day and was staring at pins all day, but couldn’t seem to hit a green. I went out in the second round and tried to make as many birdies as I could, keep it around the greens.”
Schlottman was the first Fury to begin play during the final round, and promptly birdied the first hole.
“I felt like if we could get off to a good start (during the second round), everyone would be OK,” Ring said. “And then Ben goes right out and birdies the first hole and it was like a trickle back effect. We had a group text (messaging) thing going on between parents, faculty, and other coaches from our school that were there so we could give updates to each other. When I sent that out that Ben made birdie and the kid from Christ school in his group made bogey, all of a sudden, we’re dead even with them. You could see our guys get a little swagger going.”
The ripple effect extended to Mitchell’s group. Mitchell, the third Fury to begin play, birdied four of his first seven holes and added back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10 and 11.
“When he got under par so quickly, it seemed to have a calming effect on everyone,” Ring said. “He was really a pleasant surprise, seeing as how he hadn’t even picked up a club in nearly three weeks.”
It was also Mitchell, who has been a member of the team since he was in seventh grade, who gave the team a little pep talk on the bus ride over to the course before the final round.
“It was just a summary of what I felt the team needed to hear,” Mitchell said. “We weren’t too pleased with how things had gone Monday. So, I just reminded them that it was a team event. I told them that even if they weren’t playing well, it’s not just your score. It’s four scores, and we’re most likely not going to have four under-par scores and that every shot matters.”
Townsend’s play was a perfect example. During the opening round, he hit his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole into the hazard behind the green. After taking his drop, he was making practice swings and brushed some of the grass. Townsend thought he might incur a two-shot penalty because of the incident.
Following his round, he reported his possible violation to rules officials, who initially ruled that he would incur the penalty.
But after discussing what had happened with his teammates, they went back to the officials and had the penalty reversed.
“We told him it wasn’t a penalty,” Mitchell said. “You can brush the grass in a hazard, as long as nothing was broken. As long as you don’t ground your club or move a loose impediment, it’s not a penalty. So, the 78 he thought he had shot turned into a 76. We’re in a playoff if the penalty stands.”
Hunt, who was toting the championship trophy around with him the day after winning the state title, said it was the perfect sendoff for Ring.
“We’ve had this saying since the season started: ‘Ring for Ring in 2013,’” Hunt said. “As soon as I realized we had won, I went over to him, shook his hand, and said ‘that was for you.’ I know it means the world to him, and it means the world to us to be able to get it for him. He’s meant so much to this school, to this program.”
Ring called the win “emotional” and “bittersweet”, especially for a team – and a school – that he has grown so close to over the years.
“I’m proud of them, and somewhat relieved for them that they were able to win after so many close calls lately,” Ring said. “I wanted them to be part of a state championship, and I wanted to have some part in that legacy. Winning is something that they have put so much thought and effort into and can never be taken away from them. I’m sure they will have one heck of a 10-year reunion when the time comes.”