Uncharacteristically warm weather aided in producing historically low scores during the opening round of the 4A/3A state championship golf tournament on Monday at the University of Maryland Golf Course.
With weekend rain softening the greens and temperatures reaching the upper 70s, seven players — six boys and one girl — posted rounds of par or better on the par-71 layout in College Park. The five individual boys that finished under par, headlined by Howard’s Jai Sheth (69), marks the most to accomplish the feat in any single opening round at the state tournament in more than a decade.
“You had a golf course that was playing short, soft greens that you could attack, and then it was a warm day — so yeah, it was very gettable,” said Sheth, who made six birdies in his round.
Dulaney’s Nick Charlow, who is part of a four-way tie for second after posting a 1-under-par 70, attested to scoring conditions being ideal.
“Usually you get to states here at the end of October and it’s 40 degrees with 30 mph wind gusts. Obviously, it was much different today,” said Charlow, who birdied two of his last three holes. “You still have to hit good golf shots, but the weather absolutely helps.”
Joining Charlow in a tie for second at 1-under par are Walt Whitman’s Charlie Schulman, River Hill’s Benjamin Siriboury and Centennial’s Dustin Stocksdale. Sherwood’s Bryan Kim is two shots back of Sheth and alone in sixth after shooting a par-71.
On the girls’ side, River Hill sophomore Helen Yeung — playing in her first state tournament due to last year’s event being canceled because of coronavirus concerns — fired a par-71 to take a one-shot lead over Magruder’s Shoshana Zuck. Wootton’s Rita Liu (73) is two behind and Aberdeen’s Erica Honadel (74) trails by three.
“Playing with my friend Shoshana today was such a fun 18 holes and I got to see a lot of other players I don’t see all the time, which was also very cool,” said Yeung. “But the big thing I would say is that I learned a lot of things about the course — the yardages, where to hit and where not to hit — that will help me both mentally and physically for Wednesday’s round.”
The leaders, along with all boys Monday who shot 82 or better and girls who posted 85 or better, are scheduled to return to the University of Maryland on Wednesday morning for the final round. The shotgun start is scheduled for 9 a.m.
The opening round for 2A/1A teams and individuals is Tuesday.
As for the 4A/3A team competition, Whitman is out in front after posting a four-player team score of 303. Rounding out the top five are Urbana (307), Sherwood (310), Marriotts Ridge (313) and River Hill (313). Only the top eight teams made the cut to advance to the final day, with Severna Park (10th at 323) and Dulaney (12th at 325) among teams that fell just short.
For Sheth, the breakthrough day at states on Monday came after a breakthrough victory just over a week ago at the Howard County championship tournament. He said that title helped him calm his nerves throughout the round and showcase his drastically improved game from two years ago when he finished 44th at the state tournament (77-91 — 168).
“More than anything, that [district] tournament showed me that I’m capable of playing against and beating anyone,” Sheth said. “Having that belief in myself is really important, especially out here where there are so many really good players.”
Sheth traded birdies and bogeys during the first half of his round before finding another gear on his back nine.
He drove the green on the par-4 third hole and two-putted for birdie. He then kept the momentum going with a clutch par on the next hole before adding one more birdie on the sixth hole to help him get a shot clear of the field.
Siriboury, who won the District V tournament at the beginning of October, had his own rollercoaster day. His early highlight was coming two feet away from making a hole-in-one on the par-4 15th and then tapping in for eagle.
But it was his second eagle of the day to close his round, after making a triple bogey on his third-to-last hole, that Siriboury was most proud of.
After hitting the green on the par-5 ninth hole in two shots, he sank the 20-foot putt.
“I came into that hole thinking I wanted to make birdie, but when I hit the green I told myself I had to make that [eagle] putt. For how well I had played overall, I really wanted to get back under par,” said Siriboury, who pumped his fist as the ball dropped into the cup. “There was a sense of relief after the round because it showed I could come back after a bad hole.”
Stocksdale, who was runner-up to Siriboury at districts, made five birdies of his own during the round. At one point, early in his back nine, the Eagles’ sophomore was ahead by two shots at 4-under par.
A bogey and double bogey coming in cost him a few strokes, but he was pleased overall.
“I actually played better than the score, just really clean all day. My double on No. 5 came after probably my only bad swing off the tee all day … but other than that I put myself in good positions,” he said. “My whole focus was on hitting greens and giving myself as many looks at birdie as I could.”
Arguably no one Monday had more birdie looks than Charlow, who hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation. He said he was a couple narrowly missed putts away from being in the lead.
“I was hitting greens and avoiding trouble. Now it just comes down to making a few more putts,” said Charlow, who won the District VI tournament earlier this fall. “I hit a lot of fairways, kept myself in play and then hit a bunch of solid iron shots. If I can hit it like that again on Wednesday, I see no reason why I can’t go pretty low.”
Among other Baltimore-area boys still within striking distance, Severna Park’s David Regala is only five shots behind after a 3-over-par 74. After posting a qualifying score of 79 at the district tournament, he was pleased to be able to show what he knew he was capable of.
“It feels good to allow myself to realize that one round doesn’t define who I am as a player and I think I showed today that I’m better than the mistakes I made that day,” Regala said. “I made it through that adversity and today I was pretty happy with how I hit the ball. I put myself in good spots and kept the big mistakes out of play.”
The girls’ tournament has a similarly packed leaderboard around Yeung, whose round included three birdies and three bogeys. She took the lead during the second half of her day, playing her final 12 holes in 2-under par.
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“I missed a few birdies I could have had, but I made some great saves with my putting for par that kept me going,” Yeung said. “I’m really proud of myself for that.”
Magruder’s Zuck, who finished in a tie for sixth at states as a sophomore in 2019, is just one back after her round that included four birdies.
Honadel is in the hunt as well thanks to a strong start and finish. She birdied her first two holes and her last.
The Aberdeen junior was another player that made huge strides the last couple of weeks after posting a round of 88 at the District VII tournament.
“I’ve been working really hard the past few weeks, so I’m really happy that I was able to have a good score. The good start really helped me get into a good rhythm,” Honadel said. “My iron play and my short game was also really good, so that helped my score too.”
Other Baltimore-area girls currently in the top 10 are the Marriotts Ridge duo of Alana Alexander-Giles (75, fifth place) and Lila Becker (77, tied for eighth place).
Severna Park’s Ingrid Wells (79), Westminster’s Jennifer Sorkin (82), Marriotts Ridge’s Erin Jeong (82) and Wilde Lake’s Shreya Suresh (83) also made the cut for the final round.