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If there were any bad side effects from an abrupt, somewhat unexpected coaching change, the Anderson County boys' golf team sure has not shown them.
“We haven't talked about (team goals) but I hear them talking about going to the state (tournament),” says new Bearcat coach T.J. Spivey.
Fresh out of Georgetown College and planning to teach fourth grade math at Emma B. Ward Elementary School, Spivey quickly accepted the position despite being contacted about the opening three days after the official start of fall practice.
Former coach Will Carlton accepted a position as an assistant principal at Boyle County Middle School during the summer. Carlton left the program after a strong run, but the Bearcats never quite got over the barrier of qualifying for the state. Two years ago, Anderson came very close, but the Bearcats were nudged out at the end of the day.
Then a sophomore, JoJo White became the first Anderson golfer in more than a decade to qualify for the state.
White and classmates Jacob Flora and Marcus Lake are back for their senior seasons and have every intention of leading the Bearcats to the elusive state team berth for the first time since 1992.
“I knew they had a lot of potential,” said Spivey, an Anderson grad who played the sport collegiately at Georgetown.
While White has played at the state, it was Flora and Lake who just missed a berth at the regional meet last September. This summer, they have continued their hot play.
“Marcus won the Gatorade tournament in Louisville,” volunteer assistant Buddy Flora said. “Jacob (Flora, his son) won five times out of 10 tournaments on the Pepsi Tour this summer. He had three seconds, a third and a fifth.”
Jacob Flora won the tour's season point standings and was named the state tour's Player of the Year.
“Anytime you win five of ten tourneys, that is excellent,” Spivey says. “Usually, the tournaments have the top 12 to 15 players in the state.”
Jacob Flora, who has been around the high school program since he was in the seventh grade, has improved “dramatically” according to his father.
“That is because he has worked at it. All three of them have,” Buddy Flora continued.
So close are White, Lake and Flora that it would not be surprising to see any of them put in the top spot at different times through the season.
And, Spivey adds, “On the flip side, our freshmen have a lot of potential.”
They include Tyler Harrod, Lee Robinson and Blake Long. A sophomore, Deric Green, has transferred from Indiana. “He's good,” Spivey says.
Junior Darrin Laswell and senior Cory Case have also played varsity and are capable.
Juniors Jackson Taylor, Clay Guffey and Mackenzie Morris along with sophomores Lucas Collins and Gabe McMichael could also be solid contributors.
There is little question that Anderson golf is strong at the top. White, Lake and Flora could contend for individual berths at the state if the Bearcats do not make it as a team.
But right now, the focus is on the team, where five players compete for the varsity and the top four scores are added together. The Anderson coaches feel the top three will be strong, but two others need to develop.
“I am glad that in my first year, we have a chance to go somewhere,” says Spivey, who never made the state as a golfer but did advance to the state tennis tournament in 2005. “I am impressed by their composure and they are very teachable.”
Buddy Flora adds, “The three top ones have played a ton of golf.”
And that experience, whether in the high school season, on the Pepsi tour, or any other competition should pay dividends.
“Everywhere they go, it is just another game of golf,” Flora says. “They need to just relax.”
If anything, that has been Anderson's Achilles in recent years. The team has just missed on a state berth several times and it has been common for one of the top players to have an off day in the regional tournament.
As a former high school and college player, Spivey says combating that might be one of his biggest challenges with a team that hates to lose as much as it wants to win.
“When you don't want to lose, you put pressure on yourself,” Spivey says. “You have to play your game and don't worry about it.”
But Flora, who helped Carlton as well, says Anderson golfers have to be their best when the stakes are highest. “You can't just get close,” he chuckled. “Close doesn't count.”
Long before Spivey was on the scene, the Bearcats appeared to be taking heart.
“Golf is such an individual sport,” Flora said. “You have got to be out there every single day. In the off-season, a typical day for them was they worked out and lifted weights when the weather was too bad to be on the course.
“There were some times this summer when they would play in a tournament, then they would come home and play nine holes (at Wild Turkey Trace.)”
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.