High School Golf

Woodruff survives wild finish for AAA championship

By Jed Blackwell – Associate Editor and Publisher

At the beginning of a wild hour at the SCHSL 3A State Championship at Three Pines, an hour in which nobody seemed to know where they stood, Woodruff’s Kyle Smoak knew EXACTLY where he was.

He was too far.

Smoak, trying to lay up before playing to the par-5 18th, had carried his effort a little too much, and had a dicey approach.

“On my layup shot, I thought I hit a good shot, but I hit it a little too far and was blocked out by the tree that was short left of the green,” Smoak said. “I ended up having to hit 7-iron, punch it near the green, and I thought it was a good shot, but it ended up running long and left.”

Left with a short-sided shot that he had to play high, and desperate to get up-and-down, Smoak had just one thought.

“I was telling myself to just give myself a putt at it,” he said. “Earlier in the round on shots like that, I didn’t.

This time he did. He hit it to a couple of feet, and ran in the putt.

Why was Smoak’s fairly routine par, with three groups yet to finish, so important?

Because Woodruff got into a one-hole playoff with Beaufort for the state title by one shot. They won it by a shot, too, 17-18, to take a second state title in three years in dramatic fashion.

“This is just a great group of young men,” Woodruff coach Bill Brasington said. “They’re just so fun to work with, so coachable. I’m privileged to get to hang out with them. All year, they’ve done everything that’s been asked of them, and they believe in their teammates and in the process that we have.”

As the process was playing out during the wild finish, perhaps nobody was as lost as Brasington. In trying to be everywhere at once, he didn’t see some key moments, Smoak’s finish in particular.

“Kyle didn’t really have a good two days, and I think he’d tell you that,” Brasington said. “I’d been with him for a couple of holes, particularly on 18. We had a good conversation, and then I left. I didn’t get to see the chip and putt.”

Mainly, Brasington had been furiously calculating where the Wolverines stood. He felt like Ben McKinney needed an eagle on 18, and needed Beaufort’s Jerry Bruns not to birdie, for Woodruff to have a chance. The opposite happened. Bruns knocked one close and made his putt, McKinney had to get up-and-down for a birdie, and Brasington figured that must be it. He just wasn’t sure.

Neither was anyone else.

“Ben made a good up-and-down there, and then nobody had a clue,” Brasington said. “There are so many moving parts in team golf. Once we got in, the big thing for me was Ben checking his score hole-by-hole, because it’s not done until everything’s posted.”

And once everything was posted? New life for the Wolverines.

“You’re holding your breath, you’re hoping for the best, but then you hear it and you realize you’ve got to go win one more hole,” McKinney said.

He did his part to help. Up first on No. 9, the playoff hole, McKinney piped a drive down the middle after a bout of nerves.

“I got over the ball and there were a lot of nerves, but I took a deep breath and let it eat,” he said. “After I hit it and everybody cheered, I went over and told the team to just take a breath, take it easy, and hit in in the fairway.”

His teammates mostly complied. Gage Howard, who finished as individual medalist with a two-day total of 143, one-under-par, followed him down the middle. Both made par, as did Blake Kelly. Smoak got a bad break on his drive, but again responded, two-putting from 40 feet to save bogey and clinch the victory.

Howard capped his high school career with medalist honors on his home course, said he’s a different player than when he helped the Wolverines to their first title in 2021.

“It’s funny how you mature in golf,” he said. “Being here before really helped me a lot. There were a lot of nerves last time, but I feel like I’m much more mature this time. It’s been fun.”

The Wolverines and Beaufort ended the tournament with identical scores of 609. Wren was two back at 611, with Blue Ridge and Camden rounding out the Top 10.

Clinton finished sixth, with Powdersville, Gilbert, Dreher, and Daniel making up the rest of the Top 10.

Woodruff’s Howard, McKinney, and Kelly made the All-State team. They were joined by Beaufort’s Bruns, Jack Lubkin, and Simon McAlister. Wren’s Garrett Gillespie, Phillip Simmons’ Hudson Hatch, Powdersville’s Brooks Deshields, and Blue Ridge’s Dawson Szabo also made the All-State squad.

“The Woodruff Times’ Garrett Mitchell contributed to this report”

Categories: High School Golf

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