If last year was the breakthrough, then this year for Marriotts Ridge's Jackson Courtney was the validation.
Even before stepping foot on a golf course this fall as a senior for the Mustangs, Courtney had been a part of three team state titles, won a Player of the Year award and verbaly commitment to play college golf at Towson University. His lengthy list of accomplishments already put him in the conversation with some of the greatest golfers to ever come through Howard County.
And yet, for all his prior success, Courtney managed to still somehow save his best for last.
The Mustangs' senior leader set several new individual career bests during the regular season and postseason, all while helping his team finish off a perfect run with county, district and state championships for the fourth straight year. It's with that dominance in mind that Courtney has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Boys Golfer of the Year for the second season in a row.
"I think what you saw from Jackson this year was him wanting to live up to expectations and doing everything he could to make sure he and these other guys finished what they started," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "I thought him committing to Towson at the beginning of the season was especially big for him. It was like they gave him a vote of confidence, that they believed in him, and he then ratcheted things up because he wanted to prove to them that they were getting someone special.
"You could see it in the way he played; he was on a mission."
Courtney's senior season ended up checking off most of the empty boxes on his career-goals checklist, tying county records and winning a postseason individual title for the first time. But in order to get himself into position, Courtney said preparation played a huge role for him.
He credits a large portion of his success to the work he's done with private coach George Bradford over the years.
"George Bradford has been there with me every step and he's so much more than a swing coach. I would call him family at this point," Courtney said. "He's helped me with my game, from a physical and mental standpoint, but also helped me as a person. His support, along with the amazing support from my parents and my friends, has made everything I've achieved possible."
Due to the depth on Marriotts Ridge's team this fall, Courtney only played in a handful of regular-season matches. That, however, didn't stop him from finding his way into the record books.
In a tri-match against Glenelg and Wilde Lake at Cattail Creek in mid-September, Courtney fired a round of 31 points (4-under-par) to tie the Howard County 9-hole match scoring record. He very nearly set a new record, but his eagle putt on the final hole lipped out.
"That really was an amazing round, and it does mean a lot. Any time you can put your name on a piece of history, that's definitely special," Courtney said.
He kept the momentum rolling into the county championship tournament at Hobbit's Glen. In a head-to-head showdown with defending county champion Derek Gold of River Hill, Courtney made his move down the stretch courtesy of back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes to grab a lead he never surrendered en route to the first postseason title of his career. His 18-hole total of 52 points (2-over) was good enough for a two-shot victory.
Dubbs said he could see how much the win meant to Courtney as he walked off the final green.
"You could see that relief. He had told me that he has never wanted something so bad, so to finally go out there and win it, it was a big moment for him," Dubbs said. "He had been so close over the years, I think there was a feeling of it finally being his turn."
Riding high from that victory, a relaxed Courtney simply kept that momentum going over the next month. At the District V Championship Tournament at Crofton Country Club, he fired an even-par round to finish alone in second.
As it turned out, the only one to beat him that day was his teammate Nick Mejia — who fired a round of 67 (5-under par).
Then, at the state championship tournament, Courtney again put together a standout effort on the way to second place — the highest individual finish at the season-ending event in his four years. His two-day total of 148 was four behind champion Nick Roberson of Bethesda-Chevy Chase and his second round of 71 was the lowest score of the day.
But as far as Courtney was concerned, the real crowning achievement was winning the program's state-record tying fifth consecutive 1A/2A state team championship. It capped a four-year run where through all the regular season and postseason matches, Courtney and his Marriotts Ridge teammates never lost.
Next year, Courtney will head to Towson University to continue his golfing career. And when he does, he says he'll take with him nothing but positive memories from his four years playing for the Mustangs.
"Looking back, I regret nothing. We did something that is forever going to be a part of history, something no one can take from us," he said. "I'm really proud of what I did on a personal level, but being able to go through my entire high school career never losing … that's amazing. I'm glad I got to be a part of that."
Named to the all-county first-team are:
Derek Gold, River Hill, senior
Season highlights: In eight regular-season matches for a Hawks' team that went 10-1, Gold finished with a county-best scoring average of 25.8 points a match. He set a new River Hill program record with a round of 28 points in a tri-match sweep of Centennial and Long Reach at Hobbit's Glen on Sept. 14. He sat alone in second place at the county championship tournament (50 points) and then shot a round of 79 at the District V tournament to tie for fifth. Gold wrapped up the season by finishing in a tie for 17th at states, shooting a two-day total of 157 that was highlighted by an opening-round 73.
Shashank Gupta, Howard, junior
Season highlights: A first-team performer for the first time, Gupta posted a regular-season scoring average of 21 points in five matches for a Lions' team that went 8-3. He then placed in a tie for 11th at the county championship tournament with an 18-hole total of 39 points. At the District V tournament, his round of 80 not only put him in seventh place and qualified him for states, but also helped the Lions win the 3A/4A classification as a team. He then closed the season with a two-day total of 174 at the state championship tournament, placing him in a tie for 58th.
Nick Mejia, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Season highlights: A four-time first-team all-county performer, Mejia averaged 21.8 points in four regular-season matches before making his mark in the postseason this fall. At the county-championship tournament, he shot even par on the back nine on his way to finishing in a tie for third with an 18-hole total of 46 points. Then he ran away with the title at the District V tournament, shooting a round of 67 (5-under par) to win by five shots. He closed the year by finishing in a tie for 13th at states, highlighted by an opening-round 75.
Hayden Mikk, Glenelg, senior
Season highlights: For a Gladiators team that finished the regular season with an 8-3 record, Mikk averaged 21.1 points in seven matches played. He then shot an 18-hole total of 39 points to finish in a tie for 11th at the county championship tournament. His round of 81 at the District V tournament put him in a tie for eighth and qualified him for the state tournament, where he then fired an opening-round score of 86 to just miss the cut.
Branden Nguyen, Atholton, freshman
Season highlights: Nguyen burst onto the scene with a scoring average of 22.3 in six matches, which ranked fifth in the county. His best round of the regular season was 27 points in a tri-match against Marriotts Ridge and Centennial. At the county championship tournament he fired a round of 42 points to finish alone in seventh place. He followed that up by tying for eighth with a round of 81 at the District V tournament, qualifying him for states. Then he wrapped everything up with a two-day total of 166 to finish in a tie for 41st at the state championship tournament.
John Szymanski, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Season highlights: In three regular-season matches for the county-champion Mustangs, Szymanski finished with an average of 23 points. He then posted a total of 41 points at the county championship tournament to finish in eighth. At the District V tournament he shot a round of 83 to help Marriotts Ridge win the 1A/2A classification. Then at states, he finished with a two-day total of 160 to place in a tie for 22nd. His efforts, which included a final-round 76, helped Marriotts Ridge win its fifth consecutive state team championship.