Coming off a sophomore year where he had made huge strides, finishing the regular season with the second-best scoring average in the county, Marriotts Ridge's Jackson Courtney knew he was close.
Instead of tinkering with his swing leading up to this fall, however, Courtney concentrated his energy on something a little less tangible in hopes of taking his game to the next level.
"This year most of my focus was actually on my mental game getting ready for playoffs," he said. "Last year, I would say I wasn't quite as prepared as I needed to be and the biggest thing was probably confidence. This year, over every shot, I really focused on being confident — thinking to myself that I could pull off the shot no matter what it was. And when I believed in myself this year, I did some really good things."
Those "good things" helped take Courtney from being one of the county's best to his current position as one of the state's best.
The Mustangs' junior finished among the top six in every postseason tournament this season, a huge improvement over not finishing better than ninth in any postseason event a year earlier. Prior to that, in the regular season, he again finished second in scoring average (25.9 points a match).
It's because of those improvements and contributions as a key member of Marriotts Ridge's state championship squad for a third straight season that Courtney has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys golf Player of the Year.
"To know the amount of work, in all aspects, he has put in since he started as a freshman … he's earned everything he's gotten," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "He's great about identifying his strengths and weaknesses and adjusting accordingly. The improvement from year to year has been tremendous."
While Courtney put in a lot of individual work to get to this point, he also points out the importance of having such a talented group of teammates. Bennett Buch, the team's lone senior, is a two-time Player of the Year in his own right and won a state title as a freshman. Nick Mejia is a three-time all-county player that won a county title as a freshman. Throw in several other talented players, headlined by junior John Szymanski, and Courtney had plenty of daily competition.
"Every day when we would play, even in practice, we would compete and that's something that pushes everyone to the point where they are constantly getting better. Day in and day out, you want to work harder and harder to see how you compare against the other guys just on our team," Courtney said. "That competitive attitude I think naturally translates to matches and tournaments."
Marriotts Ridge's depth resulted in Courtney and the rest of the team's top players only getting in a handful of matches during the regular season. But Courtney did make the most of his time, including a season-high 30-point day (3-under par) in a victory over Hammond.
He kicked off the postseason by finishing in a tie for sixth at the rain-shortened county championship tournament. Then, he really kicked things into high gear at the District V tournament.
Hovering around the lead for the majority of the day, Courtney delivered a clutch eagle on his final hole to force his way into a playoff with Broadneck's Connor Jaenke. While he ultimately ended up falling short on the first extra hole, the clutch play down the stretch showcased an aspect of Courtney's game that hadn't been there in the past.
"I think he was so much calmer in those pressure situations and the experience of the last couple years definitely helped," Dubbs said. "He learned how to have a short memory and, more importantly, when and where to be aggressive to put himself in position to win."
At states, Courtney again put himself around the lead for the majority of the two-day tournament. In the final round, he actually was tied for first through eight holes following a pair of birdies near the start of his round.
Again, he ended up falling short, placing in a tie for fourth. But his two-day total of 142 (even par) put him as the top Howard County finisher and showcased a 15-shot improvement from his sophomore year.
"That was a big tournament for me because I felt like I really had a chance almost the entire time," Courtney said. "Playing against the top players in the state, I showed that I could compete at that level."
Going forward, Courtney has big plans for his senior year and beyond. He's already been drawing significant college interest from local Division I programs Towson and Loyola University, so the opportunity to continue his playing career appears to be a legitimate possibility.
"I'm just going to try to keep getting better and see what happens," he said.
Named to the all-county first team are:
Bennett Buch, Marriotts Ridge senior
Season highlights: In five regular-season matches, Buch finished with a scoring average of 25.8 points a match. He reached a season-high of 30 points in the team's final regular-season match against Reservoir, helping the team set a new scoring record in the process. Placed in a tie for second at the county championship tournament (25 points) and in a tie for third at the District V tournament (73). Wrapped up the season by finishing in a tie for eighth at states, shooting a two-day total of 144 that was highlighted by a tournament-best opening-round 67.
Derek Gold, River Hill junior
Season highlights: A first-team performer for the first time this fall, Gold upped his scoring average to 21.9 points a match. His best regular-season round was a score of 27 points against Oakland Mills. He matched that score at the county championship tournament to win the first postseason title of his career, making birdies on his final three holes to win by two. Finished in a tie for 16th at the District V tournament with a score of 81.
Daniel Kim, Reservoir senior
Season highlights: Highlighted by a season-high 30 points against Mt. Hebron at Fairway Hills in early September, Kim finished the regular season with a scoring average of 24 points. He scored at least 20 points in every regular season match. After finishing in a tie for 16th at the county tournament (19 points), he rebounded to shoot a 77 at the District V tournament to place alone in seventh place. Missed making the cut for the second day at states by one shot after firing an 86.
Young Lee, Glenelg senior
Season highlights: Finished the season as the top scorer for the second-place Gladiators, posting a scoring average of 23.5 points a match. Hit a season-high 26 points on two different occasions. Placed tied for sixth at the county championship tournament (23 points) and then tied for 20th at the District V tournament (83).
Nick Mejia, Marriotts Ridge junior
Season highlights: Played in only four regular-season matches, but his scoring average of 26.8 points put him atop the county ranks. He hit 28 points (1-under par) on two occasions, including in the team's record-setting regular-season finale against Reservoir. He finished tied for fourth (24 points) at the county championship tournament, tied for seventh at the District V tournament (78) and tied for 18th at states (two-day total of 152).
Nick Osterman, Atholton senior
Season highlights: After an up-and-down regular season that saw him finish with a scoring average of just 18.5 points a match — a point lower than his junior year — Osterman peaked during the postseason. He flirted with the lead the entire day at the county championship tournament before finishing in a tie for fourth with 24 points. He then followed that up with a 78 at the District V tournament to finish in a tie for seventh and a two-day total of 168 to finish in 74th at states.