On a cold and windy opening day of the 3A/4A state championship tournament, which started with a 90-minute frost delay, Centennial’s Ty Sams and Howard’s Jason Wheeler each successfully navigated the elements to post rounds of 79 Monday at the University of Maryland golf course.
Both players advance to the final round of the tournament, which is scheduled for a 9 a.m. shotgun start on Wednesday. Atholton’s Branden Nguyen, who shot an 83, is the only other Howard County golfer — male or female — to advance out of the large schools classification.
Centennial, competing as a team, fired a combined total of 359 and missed the team cut by 34 shots. Urbana is the opening-round leader at 306 and six teams in total qualified for the final round.
For Sams, his eight-over par day that currently has him in a four-way tie for 11th, was especially sweet considering he fired an opening-day round of 92 at last year’s state tournament and missed the cut.
He said that his growth as a player from a season ago was never more evident than how he handled a triple bogey on his opening hole Monday. Instead of hanging his head, he regrouped to play his next eight holes in one-under par to steady the ship.
“My mental game has improved tremendously, because last year if I had started with a triple [bogey] I would definitely not have responded the same way,” Sams said. “Today, I just tried to tell myself there were still 17 holes left to turn it around and I was able to bounce back. I didn’t let one hole ruin my whole round.”
Sams ended up making three birdies overall — on hole Nos. 7, 13 and 15.
Wheeler is also first-time qualifier for the final day of the state tournament and he too used a strong first nine holes to set the tone for his round. He was three-over midway through his day and said that he managed his nerves by taking a conservative approach that focused on making pars.
“It wasn’t easy, especially with how windy it was, but the biggest thing for me was just keeping my head in the game and assessing what my lowest risk shot was every time,” Wheeler said. “My focus was on easy swings with easy clubs.”
It also helped Wheeler that his putter was working early on, sinking lengthy putts on four of his first 10 holes.
“I had to scramble a lot, but I was able to save par a number of times by making 10-15 foot putts,” Wheeler said.
Nguyen, meanwhile, made the cut on the number. His day started with a birdie on the par 5 16th hole, but also included double bogeys on the third and 11th holes to go along with a triple bogey on par 4 first.
Last year as a sophomore he posted a two-round total of 156 (76-80) to finish tied for 12th in 3A/4A.
In the overall individual competitions, Northern’s Edward Coffren holds the boys lead after an opening-round 70 and Whitman’s Amanda Levy holds the girls lead after an opening-round 71.
In terms of the team competition, Centennial simply didn’t have enough support in back of Sams. The Eagles’ other three scorers — Kenneth Chaplain (87), Morgan Taylor (94) and Klaus Wood (99) — all shot at least nine shots worse than their qualifying score from the District V tournament.
“They are a little disappointed, but it’s tough in these large tournament formats where you have to be so mentally strong through the long rounds, cold weather and then today such a long delay before the round,” Centennial coach Stephen Lee said. “It’s tough to prepare for and, yes everyone goes through it, but it’s still something the kids aren’t used to. We just unfortunately weren’t at our best today.”