Golf: Flach rides hot start to District V title

As the ball disappeared into the cup, Centennial's Connor Flach allowed himself a fist pump.

For the first 17 holes of the District V Championship Oct. 14, the Eagles junior had stayed in the moment, careful to not get overly wrapped up in what was building toward the best round of his competitive career.

But when that final putt fell on the 18th hole at Fairway Hills to secure a two-under-par round of 68, Flach finally let the emotions take over.

"I knew with the way the course was playing, anything under par was going to be tough to beat, but I couldn't get ahead of myself. I couldn't worry about what everyone else was doing or what my lead was," said Flach, who had surged out in front with four birdies on his first seven holes.

"I kept telling myself just keep making good swings and stick to the game plan … I didn't let myself celebrate until that last putt went in."

Flach's career-day helped him cruise to a comfortable four-shot victory over South River's Garret Sauls, who finished second with a round of 72.

He wasn't the county's only winner, though, as Atholton's Bryana Nguyen birdied her final hole to shoot an even-par 70 and hold off Arundel's Elyse Smidinger by a shot for the girls title.

In the 1A/2A team competition, Glenelg and Marriotts Ridge finished first and second, respectively, to each qualify for the state championship tournament at the University of Maryland Oct. 24-26. Glenelg (320 team total) will be making its first trip to states since 2008, while Marriotts Ridge (326) is headed back for the third straight year.

No county teams in the 3A/4A classification qualified. For complete results, see High School Wrap-Up.

On a day where the start of play was delayed three hours because of rain and winds gusted up to 30 mph, Flach was one of the few players undeterred by the elements.

He started his day with tap-in birdies on the first and third holes, sandwiched around a clutch par save on No. 2. The birdie on the par 3 third hole came after his tee shot came to rest an inch from the cup.

It was early, but he already had himself a two-shot lead on the field.

"Birdie on one and par on two is kind of what you hope for, but making a birdie on three was a bonus," Flach said. "All of a sudden you start thinking this could be a special round, because there are still a couple birdie holes right after that."

Flach kept things going with birdies on five and seven, combined with easy pars on four and six, to get to a tournament-best 4-under par.

The rest was history, as the Eagles' junior never trailed by less than two the remainder of the round. He did have a couple hiccups, three-putting for bogey on No. 8 and No. 14, but for the most part Flach was in complete control.

And for a guy who had posted three top five finishes in the high school postseason over the past two years without any victories, it was the kind of championship round he had been waiting for.

"I've been so close, knocking at the door a bunch of times, and it feels so good to break through," Flach said. "I'm really lucky to have such supportive parents and after every single tournament they've been like your time is coming … today it did."

Wilde Lake's Tyler Silberberg was the only other county boy to finish in the top five, shooting a round of 75 to finish alone in fifth. Thanks to three birdies on his front nine, he trailed Flach by only two at the turn. But he finished with two double bogeys on the back to fade from contention.

While Flach never trailed in his championship run, Nguyen's road to the title had a few more twists and turns.

Through seven holes Friday, she trailed Marriotts Ridge's Rachel Lee by two and Smidinger by one. However, it was what happened over the ensuing four holes that changed the tournament.

Lee made double bogies on Nos. 8 and 10, dropping her from 2-under par to 2-over. Smidinger, meanwhile, doubled No. 10 and bogeyed No. 11 to go from 1-under to 2-over as well.

That left Nguyen, who stayed steady with pars on all four holes during that stretch, ahead by two at even par. In fact, the slow and steady approach was what benefitted Nguyen the entire day as she ran off one stretch of 10 straight pars in the middle of her round.

Considering that Smidinger made another bogey on No. 14 and Lee made a double bogey on 15, pars were good scores.

"I missed most of my putts for birdie, but I made a lot of good putts for par," Nguyen said. "That was really a key because it forced them to have to make birdies to catch up."

Things did get interesting on the final hole, when Smidinger, trailing by two, stuck her second shot to within a couple inches on the par 5. With a tap-in eagle, she forced Nguyen to have to make a birdie to win.

Thanks to a beautiful chip shot from over the green that nestled within a foot of the hole, Nguyen delivered.

"It was a fairly easy chip shot and I knew I didn't want to play a playoff, so I just had to execute," said Nguyen, who had hit her second shot on the par 5 just a few yards long. "It was a pretty big relief when it stopped just past the hole for an easy birdie. I probably gave my dad a heart attack out there."

Lee ended up finishing alone in third with a round of 76.

Glenelg's district championship was sparked by freshman Steven Segrist's round of 76, followed by solid days from Greg Leake (80), Adam Leake (81) and Matt Forester (83). After completing an undefeated regular season earlier in the week, the Gladiators simply carried over that momentum.

"I thought the guys played really smart, didn't try to do too much," coach Chris Beil said. "This was just another step for us in what has been a really good season. Now there's just one more step to go."

Lee's round of 76 led Marriotts Ridge on its way to a 326 overall total. Last year the runner-up Mustangs would have missed out on the state championships as a team, but a new rule this fall allows any team that shoots 328 or better to automatically qualify.

That means that the Mustangs, comprised of Lee, Chris Yoo (83) Joe Dorsch (83) and Joey Park (84), still have a shot on the state's biggest stage.

"There were so many variables with the weather, the time delay and the conditions that it really becomes a gut check out there. And what it comes down to is just surviving," coach Mark Dubbs said. "That's what our kids did … they did enough to get us to that next day and that's all you can ask."

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