‘I’m going to the state!’

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By John Herndon

Hayden Elder just had a feeling things were going right.

“He came off the green at No. 9 and said, ‘I am going to the state,’” Anderson County boys’ golf coach Nate Hollon said.

Elder knew what he was talking about last Tuesday. The high school junior finished with a two-over 74 at Bardstown’s Maywood Country Club to earn his spot as one of three individual qualifiers for the state tournament. Elder will tee off for the state meet at Bowling Green Country Club Friday morning.

Elder still had nine holes to play after telling his coach he would be playing in another high school meet this year, but he’d felt like things were going his way long before.

“I knew on my first drive,” Elder says of when he thought things would be good.

“He was just crushing the ball with his driver,” Hollon said.

Elder was routinely pushing over 250 yards with his tee shot and said any case of nerves from playing in the finality of a regional tournament were gone quickly. “After my first drive, all my nerves were gone,” Elder said.

But the old adage that golf is won and lost in the short game was true last week. Elder sank four birdies to overcome four bogeys and one double bogey. “It seemed like every time he made a mistake, he would come back and make a birdie in the next two holes,” Hollon said.

It came down to the 18th hole. As it turned out, he would need a birdie on the final hole if he wanted to return to Bowling Green where he played as a team qualifier last year. The par 5 hole could have been unforgiving and he was not in the best position for his third shot.

He nailed it.

“Hayden had a great approach shot from about 40 yards out,” Hollon said.

The ball landed close to the pin -- “It was about two or three feet,” Elder said -- and the junior calmly sank the shot.

And the wait began.

The luck of the draw meant Elder would have a while before he would know his fate for sure. “I was going to be happy with it either way,” Elder said.

Under Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules, the top two teams and the three top individuals not on those teams advance to the boys’ state golf tournament.

“Probably half the field was still on the course when he came in,” Hollon said with a big grin. “We had to wait about three hours before everybody was finished.”

While none of the other Bearcats were turning in rounds that would get them past the regional, Elder and those around him knew he had a chance. “He mom kept looking at the board,” Hollon laughed.

When all had finished, Taylor County and Campbellsville had advanced as teams while Elder and West Jessamine’s Nash Henning had tied for the individual third place. Taylor’s Cooper Parks took the individual title with a two-under 70 while Danville’s Jared Southerland finished second at 73.

“He had a great round,” Hollon said. “Maywood is a semi-tight course. It’s hilly and you have to know how to play that course.”

Elder served notice early with birdies on No. 3 and No. 5. “On No. 5, I didn’t see many pars,” Hollon said.

Elder will be making his second appearance at the state which should be an advantage. He has played the Bowling Green Country Club several times in his career and knows the 103-year-old course’s nuances.

“It’s an old style course with a lot of spread out trees,” Hollon said. “The greens are Bermuda grass, not Bent like most courses, so they play differently.”

Being a state veteran, Elder should not be in awe of his surroundings when he gets to Bowling Green. Hollon, who is in his first year as head coach at Anderson, remembers what happened when he was an assistant coach in 2013. The Anderson team had made its first appearance at the state in nearly 20 years.

“We got down there for the practice round and the kids saw all the signs and all the people. They saw a couple of radio stations set up down there,” he laughs. “Their eyes got real big.”

Elder is accustomed to that. He says he just needs to play his game in the two-day affair. He will have a practice round Thursday, then play for keeps on Friday. Elder says he wants more.

“I want to make it to the second day,” he says.

Adds Hollon, “When Lee Robinson played (in 2013), he finished 13th. I think Hayden has a chance to do that.”

Whatever happens, Elder joins a select few of Anderson golfers to make the state’s big stage.

“When he came off No. 9 and said he was going to the state,” Hollon smiled, “that is something I will remember the rest of my life.”

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