For the second consecutive year, the Class 3A state golf championship went down to a playoff and again, the A.C. Flora Falcons walked away victorious.
A.C. Flora won the tournament on May 15 at Coastal Carolina’s Hackler Course with a final score of 607, besting Chapin in a one-hole playoff.
Coach Harry Huntley spoke to The State about the Falcons’ third consecutive championship — the sixth in program history.
What were your initial thoughts on this year’s team?
The end of last year, after we won in the playoff, I had three seniors who were graduating; the year before, we had two graduate. Out those five, four went to play in Division I. So I knew that was going to be a tough act to follow. Only Wick Andrews had been on both of those teams, so we didn’t have a lot of experience. Wick and Will Marter were the only ones we had back, and I was thinking we had to start building again. When we started practice this year, I didn’t even know who my starting five were going to be. ... We were young, and when they’re young like that, they can get spooked at a state championship match.
When did you feel your team had championship potential?
As the season progressed, it was amazing to see some of these kids step up. Jennings Huntley really established himself as our No. 3 player, and another that really stepped up was Chase Fisher, who really developed into a solid player and just absolutely loves golf. My fifth player was another freshman. I knew what I thought they were capable of, but I was still a little nervous.
Did you set any team goals?
I always thought that we could be in the top few teams, but I wasn’t going to put the pressure on them that I thought we could win. I can’t say it was any one time, but I started seeing a lot more consistency as the season progressed. I knew for us to do well it was going to take my No. 1 and 2 players to play really well and some good scores from No. 3 and No. 4.
Were there any important changes this season that helped the Falcons succeed?
We got to the state tournament, and the boys got to the point where they really started listening to me. That’s the advantage of having these boys around for several years, they start believing in what I’m trying to do. We worked a lot on our short game and a lot on our putting and those are the things that the state meet will often come down to.
Was there a moment that convinced you of your team’s potential?
At the region tournament, we did not win, but we had three guys make the all-region team. I really thought Chapin would be the team to beat starting the season — little did I know we’d be in a playoff with them in the end. But then we went to the Lower State tournament and won that, and it was just our second win of the season. That gave me some hope and our boys some hope. I think then they really believed that we could win the state championship.
How did Wick Andrews and Will Marter deal with the pressure of being your most experienced player?
I told them ‘I really hate to lay this pressure on you, but I don’t have anybody that can replace your scores.’ (Andrews) just needed to play two good solid rounds of golf, and he did that for us. And Will puts enough pressure on himself to do well.
But where we really got the help is where Chase Fisher, and Michael Beal and Jennings shot well. That’s what it took. It took the guys deep in my lineup playing well.
What was the final day of competition like?
We started off behind by four strokes. The second day, the course played about three strokes harder. We ended up having the lowest score of the day, and that got us into the playoff. Watching that was pretty nervewracking, but what helped us was the fact that we had been there before. The other thing that helped is I don’t think that our guys felt the pressure to win, and maybe some of the other teams did. They really wanted to win, but there was no pressure.
What did it feel like to come out on top again?
It was a really incredible feeling, because three months before that I don’t think many people would have given us a chance to do that. This was just a great feeling because it was young kids who really wanted to be there, who had done the things I asked them to do and who had worked their tails off.
What post-championship traditions have you established?
Well, luckily, I did not get thrown in a swimming pool at a party, which has happened before. We had a big steak dinner and then had our team party, and that’s always fun because that’s where they get to order their championship rings. I don’t think the boys take it for granted, but there’s a lot of excitement when they get to order their rings. And they always want a ring with diamonds in it, which I have to back them up from. And as a reward, I took the golf team down to Harbortown and played that course.
You have a long history with the program. What did you learn this year?
You learn a little bit every year. One of the things this year, I tried hard to keep the boys relaxed, even if I’m a ball of nerves. Also, you’ve got to give them the chance to believe in what they can do. When I started doing this 13 years ago, I never set for it out to be a run of state championships like these kids have done. It has been a privilege to be part of that and see what these kids can do together.