BRASELTON, Ga. — Eighteen holes were not enough to decide the District J men's golf championship Wednesday afternoon at Chateau Elon Resort.
The Walters State Senators entered Wednesday's second round six strokes behind Abraham Baldwin and started the day strong on the front nine to pull close. The back nine was a different story as the Stallions were able to hold off the hard-charging Senators. When the final scores were all tallied, the two teams were tied for the lead with a score of 615.
That necessitated a playoff round which started from the 18th hole. The first three players for Abraham-Baldwin had a par and two bogies and Walters State's Andrew Linkous and Hunter Blaken had a par and a bogie. That meant it was up to Alex Hodge, Stephen Owen and Dane Rheinecker to claim the district crown. The Stallions had a bogie and a par which meant Walters State's players had to avoid any bogies. All three players did just that to win the tournament by one stroke.
Both teams will advance to the NJCAA Division II national championships at Swan Lake Indiana National in Plymouth, Indiana on May 21-24. That course holds a special place in the history of Walters State Athletics as it is the course where the Senators won the national title in 2014 and are hoping will be the place history repeats itself in 2019.
"Winning is the exciting part that I really love but I thought we should have won it before we had to go to the playoff," Walters State head coach Bill Gardner said after his team clinched the district title. "But our boys stood up and played like they should and I was really proud of them for that because they could have folded and been discouraged by the fact they had a chance to win it but let it get away. But we came back and that will be good for them down the road."
"That is something we have to work through," Gardner said of his team's struggles on the back nine. "We have to put the gas down when we get the lead. But I'm so excited to go back to where we won the national championship, I'm excited for our guys."
The Senators finished with a score of 309-306-615 and Abraham-Baldwin shot 303-312-615. The tournament was really three events within one as Walters State, Abraham Baldwin, Surry, Patrick Henry and Cleveland State were playing for the Region VII title and a spot in the Division II national championships by winning the district and Georgia Military and Oxford College of Emory University were vying for a spot in the Division III nationals as well as their region's top spot. Georgia Military advanced to the D-III post-season in New York as they finished third overall with a score of 323-324-647. Surry was next at 332-321-653, followed by Oxford College 335-329-664, Patrick Henry 343-324-667 and Cleveland State 339-350-689.
Will Bozeman of Abraham Baldwin was the individual champion by firing a 71-76-147. He was three shots clear of teammate Adam Park and Coty Hearn of Patrick Henry. Walters State's Andrew Linkous had the best finish for the Senators as he fired a 74-77-151 to finish fourth but claimed the Region VII individual medalist trophy.
Other Walters State golfers who placed in the District J championship included Alex Hodge (79-74-153) who finished sixth, Dane Rheinecker (74-81-155) who placed sixth, Stephen Owen (82-76-158) who tied for eighth and Hunter Blaken (86-79-165) who placed 19th.
In addition to Walters State and Abraham-Baldwin advancing as teams, five individuals will also play in the national championships in the Hoosier State next month. They include Hearn of Patrick Henry, Colbe Cagle of Cleveland State and Surry's Dylon Wooten, Andrew Johnson and Evan Marion.