The Cape Fear men's golf team is two months into the 2017-18 season. Although they are young, with eight freshmen and only one sophomore, head coach Rick Stewart likes what he's seen out of his players so far. The Sea Devils have finished second in two of their first four tournaments, and haven't finished lower than fifth. Playing in NJCAA District 4, one of the most competitive districts in the nation, the team faces off against programs with a history of success that have produced professional golfers.
In their first tournament, Cape Fear finished 3rd in the Cutter Creek Invitational, shooting a 6-under 282 in two rounds. Considering it was the first tournament for many of them, Coach Stewart was impressed in the way his young team competed against NCAA Division II schools.
"For the kids to step up in their first tournament and do that, it's great," said coach Stewart.
While he liked their effort, the team struggled in Round 2 after shooting well in Round 1. Coach Stewart states the 2nd round performance came as a result of not putting the previous round behind them.
"Players have to move on no matter what they score on the previous hole [or round]." He says his team wanted to repeat their strong performance on the second day, when it would have been better to treat each round separately. After struggling in Round 2, he joked with his players, telling them they, "folded like a dinner napkin." While Round 2 didn't go as well as they hoped, it was a good teaching moment.
Remaining focused is important, according to Coach Stewart. Five players participate in each tournament, and the top four scores are counted. It creates little room for error.
"If they don't focus and each one drops a shot or two, that's the difference between first and eighth."
While overall team scores determine the winner, individual players have stepped up in various tournaments. Of the entire roster, coach Stewart points to freshman Brantley Moore as his strongest player so far this season. A native of Wilmington, Moore has one Top 10 finish and four Top 20 finishes this season. He finished tied for 6th in the Cutter Creek Invitational, shooting 73 in both rounds, then finished 14th in the Don Scalf Invitational, 14th in the NJCAA District 4 Preview in early October, and then tied for 11th in the Walter State Fall Classic.
Coach Stewart calls him "reliable," and says the best part of Moore's game is his ability to hit from the tee. "[He has] good distance, [he is] very accurate, and he keeps the ball in front of him."
Another standout has been freshman Tanner Norris. In the Cutter Creek Invitational, he finished tied for 1st, shooting 73 in Round 1 and 69 in Round 2. Later in the month, he finished tied for 10th in the Don Scalf Invitational, shooting 71 and 72 in two rounds. So far, Norris has two Top 10 finishes, along with three Top 20 finishes.
When describing Norris' game, one word comes to mind for Coach Stewart.
"Norris is a natural. His game is just natural." He states the freshman from Morehead City, NC has never had formal training, and that he has a good feel for the game. His natural ability, however, is both a blessing and slight handicap.
"He's finding out he's not the only one who can post [good scores]."
However, Stewart says that Norris can become a great player when he can improve and apply the technical and mental parts of the game.
Coach Stewart has been impressed with the work ethic of Morgan. He says he is a great example of, "a player really, really putting the time in, [and having] their mind [in the right place]." He believes these attributes mean Morgan will develop into a great player.
Moving forward, the team heads to Montgomery, Alabama, to participate in the Trojan Invitational hosted by Central Alabama Community College and played at Wynlake Country Club. The tournament will be played on November 13th and 14th and is their last tournament of 2017. The team will leave on Saturday the 10th and travel 10 hours by van before taking in a practice round on Sunday. It's a grueling drive, but the tournament will be a good test for the team to end the first half of the season.
In this tournament and moving forward, Coach Stewart wants to see his players finish rounds better. The "magic number" to be competitive, according to Stewart, is 292 and under in two rounds. Right now, he believes he has four players who can "turn numbers" (in other words, shoot under-par); however, to win a tournament at this level, there needs to be five players capable of shooting low scores.
Getting better as a team is, as alluded to earlier, is about moving on from the previous hole or round. As Stewart says, they have, "got to take their bumps." Additionally, getting better is about recognizing the level they are playing at.
"They've got to understand this is not high school, it's very competitive."
That said, he believes they aren't far from being that deep.
"We are in a position where if two other players step up, we could have a great year."
After competing next week, the team will be off for Winter Break. They will resume practice on January 10th, and compete in at least three more tournaments, and up to four or five if they qualify for the Regional/District Tournament and the National tournament.
Courtesy of Nick Denning