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Dogs hope to protect home turf in hosting state tourney at CCC
Wills web.jpg
WILLS KELLY AND CAMDEN hope to use the home course to their advantage in next week’s AAA state championship tournament at the Camden Country Club. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I

AAA state golf championship

When: Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14
Where: Camden Country Club
Admission: Free
Tee times: Monday: 11 a.m., from first and 10th tees; Tuesday: 8:30 a.m., from first and 10th tees
Golf cart rental: $25 per day

Sitting behind his desk in his office at the Camden Country Club, Matt McCarley stared at mounds of paperwork. This is the busiest time of year at the Knights Hill Road facility and things will only get more harried next week.

In addition to his role as the golf pro at the CCC, McCarley is also the head boys’ and girls’ golf coach at Camden High School. Next Monday, McCarley and his Bulldogs will play host to the South Carolina High School League AAA boys’ state championship tournament.

The two-day, 36-hole event comes on the heels of the course hosting last week’s Carolinas Golf Association Four-Ball Championship and on the same week as the CCC’s member-guest tournament. In between events, McCarley is also looking out for the course and the club’s members while also finding time to teach golf lessons. 

The man wearing more than one hat will be stretched out even more at the SCHSL tournament as he serves as tournament director as well as coaching his own team.

The Bulldogs qualified for one of the 16 allotted slots in the state championship after a fourth-place finish in Monday’s AAA Upper State tournament played over the Three Pines Country Club course in Woodruff, site of the 2020 AAA state championship tourney.

Camden tied for fourth in Woodruff with Emerald as both team carded 330 scores for the one-day, 18-hole event won by the host Wolverines with a 296.

McCarley laid his cards on the table when talking about his squad’s stay in the Upstate on Monday.

“We didn’t perform well at all,” he said. “In fact, it was probably our poorest performance of the season.

“I think the boys were very nervous and uptight and, it showed. It was definitely some of the worst golf that I’ve seen us play all year long.”

On the other side of the coin, McCarley said it is better to have a bad round and still qualify for the state championship than to have a bad one and have to sit the tourney out, especially when it is on your home course.

“Hopefully,” he said, “we got our worst round out of the way heading into this week.  I know our boys were really uptight because they really wanted to advance and come back and play here, on their home golf course, for the state championship.”

Senior Patrick Lindsay continued his stretch of recent strong finishes as he led the Dogs with a team-low 80 in Woodruff. Sophomore Wills Kelly was next with an 82 while junior Robert Inabinet carded an 83.

Sophomore Evan Younghans signed a card with an 85 score while junior David Bishop checked in with an 88 for a team which struggled to find its rhythm on the front side of the  par 72 Three Pines layout.

“I’m very proud of the way the boys battled on the back nine. They got off to a horrible start, but played better on the back nine,” McCarley said. “Hopefully, we flushed that round.

“We still finished fourth in the Upper State, but our scores weren’t good, at all. Obviously, we can do much better than that. Hopefully, they won’t get too amped up (for next week) because, in golf, sometimes that is what can happen.

Knowing the talent which he had returning coming into this season, McCarley dotted his slate of matches with three two-day, 36-hole events to get the Bulldogs ready for the state tournament. 

“It helps a lot,” McCarley said of playing consecutive days of 18 holes of golf. “The one thing about high school golf is that you only play nine-hole matches. Then, all of a sudden, you go to playing 18 holes. It’s like playing one half of football then, once postseason gets here, you have to play the second half too. 

“Some of my boys don’t have a whole lot of tournament experience; Wills Kelly does and, Evan Younghans has played a fair amount of tournaments. The other boys are just kind of getting into that.”

A year ago, the Bulldogs finished 13th in the AAA state tourney played at Cross Creek Plantation in Seneca. McCarley said, this time around, he has loftier goals for a squad which can lean on the experience they gained last season along with the comfort factor of playing on their home course. 

The Dogs won the Region 4-AAA crown in a one-day, 18-hole event played at the Camden Country Club by shooting a 308. Two rounds like that should put the hosts in the thick of things next week.

“I think, realistically, that we can finish in the top five,” McCarley said. “If we play like we did in the region championship, we can be knocking on the door for the championship. The region championship round was the best score we’ve shot in probably 12 years. It’s been a long time since we’ve shot those kinds of scores.”

In the conference tournament, Lindsay’s round of a 3-over par 73 led the way. Kelly, whose game is starting to come back after a torrid start to the season, was next with a 77 followed by Inabinet and Bishop, both with 79s while Younghans shot an 87. 

McCarley said the dream scenario for the Dogs following Monday’s opening round would be to be within five to eight strokes of the tournament leader. 

“If you are that close going into the second day,” he said, “anything can happen. If we can shoot 310 or, anything around that neck of the woods on Monday, I think it will keep you right in the ballgame. If everyone we have plays the way they’re capable of playing, there is no reason why we can be right there on the last day.”

What McCarley has emphasized to his players is to treat the state event as a regular two days of golf rather than putting additional pressure on their shoulders with the tourney being played on their home course. “That’s easier said than done,” McCarley said. “They’ve been looking forward to this ever since I first told them about it about a year ago. I feel good about where they are, though.”

For Camden to be in the running for the school’s first state golf title, they will have to find their way around defending state champion Bishop England. While Woodruff won the AAA Upper State title by eight strokes over runner-up Chesnee, Bishop England breezed to a 24-stroke win with a 297 in the Lower State tournament played at the Diamond Back Golf Course in Loris. McCarley said that in talking with other coaches throughout the state, the Battling Bishops from Daniel Island will come to Camden as the team to beat.

Scoring next week, though, may not be as easy as it was in the Upper and Lower State events given the tight fairways and postage stamp-sized greens of the Donald Ross-designed Camden Country Club course.

“The course is, sort of, a neutralizer,” McCarley said. “This is a tricky golf course and the home course advantage should probably mean something here, but we still have to hit the shots and make our putts. At this course, the green complexes are difficult; the short game, chipping and putting, is challenging for most young kids.”

AAA state tournament notes: This will be the first time since 1995 that the Camden Country Club has hosted the AAA state championship tournament. That year, Wade Hampton sophomore Lucas Glover, who would go on to win the 2009 U.S. Open, left town as medalist for the second straight year after shooting a 67-73—140 … Also in the tournament playing for Hilton Head that year was D.J. Trahan, who has won twice on the PGA Tour … Daniel won the 1995 AAA title while the host Bulldogs, under then-head coach Guy Eckenroth, finished fourth … McCarley credited second-year Camden High athletic director/head football coach, Brian Rimph for his efforts in bring the 2019 AAA state championship tournament to Camden. “Coach (Brian) Rimph did a great job of securing the state tournament for here in Camden. He put this together over a year ago, so it has been in the works for awhile,” McCarley said. “The (Camden Country Club) members have been very receptive as far as having this tournament here, as well.”