BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The discussion of whether this St. Xavier High School golf team was the best in state history may never be answered, but the numbers would appear to be on the Tigers’ side.
St. X staked its claim Wednesday, shooting a 9-under-par 279 and running away with the team championship at the Leachman Buick-GMC-Cadillac/KHSAA State Tournament at Bowling Green Country Club.
The Tigers’ two-day total of 19-under 557 was the best in the 81-year history of the event, shattering the previous record of 579 set by Trinity in 2003 at Eagle Trace Golf Course in Morehead, Ky.
With five seniors on its roster, St. X was expected to win. But even coach Dan Utley didn’t expect this.
“I knew they were all playing their best golf and that we had a chance to do something really special,” Utley said. “These guys teed it up on No. 1 and had that goal in mind to do something incredibly special, which they did shooting 19-under. This is such a special group of kids.”
St. X won its second straight title and 20th overall. Male ranks second all-time with seven titles, all won during an eight-year span from 1941-48.
Franklin County junior C.J. Jones took the individual title after a four-hole playoff with Lyon County sophomore Cullan Brown. Both finished at 8-under 136. St. X teammates Michael Sass and Allen Hamilton tied for third at 137.
The race for the team title wasn’t nearly as close, as St. X finished 37 shots ahead of runner-up Franklin County (594). Mason County (598) took third place, followed by Owensboro Catholic (604) and Union County (607). Ballard, in the state tournament for the first time since 2002, finished 10th at 627.
The victory capped a dominant year for St. X, which won 20 of the 22 events it entered and finished second in the other two. All five seniors won at least one individual championship this season.
Perhaps the most telling sign of the Tigers’ depth came Wednesday when Hamilton’s score of 72 didn’t even count toward the team score, as Sass (68), Matt Liston (70), Billy Basham (70) and Drew Kiehl (71) all posted better rounds. (Each team has five players, but only the top four individuals count toward the team score.)
“That just sums up how these five guys came together as freshmen and pulled each other along,” Utley said. “When someone got better early on, maybe like Mike Sass, those other guys wanted to catch up to him. Then Billy caught up, then Allen, then Matt, then Drew. That’s the way it works. It’s just awesome.”
Hamilton’s 65 gave him the individual lead entering Wednesday’s final round, and he held a three-shot lead after a birdie at the par-4 No. 9 got him to 9 under.
But disaster struck at the par-4 12th, where Hamilton’s tee shot veered right into the trees.
“I could have punched out to a wedge, and (instead) I tried to thread it through the trees to the green,” he said. “I hit a tree and went up against a rock and had to take an unplayable.”
Hamilton made a double-bogey, dropped to 7 under and never could get those shots back.
But with the team title in hand, Hamilton wasn’t too disappointed.
“I have four best friends on this team, and we’re all such good players,” he said. “It’s been so much fun to be a part of it. We’re just trying to keep up the St. X tradition.”
Meanwhile, Brown had the best round of the day with a 67, making an eagle at No. 14 and a birdie at No. 18 – both par-5s – to get to 8 under.
Jones, who played with Hamilton in the final round, made birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to get to 8 under and then saved par at No. 18 to force the playoff.
Both players bogeyed the first two playoff holes and made par on the third. Jones sank an 8-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole – No. 12 – and Brown missed a 5-footer that would have continued the playoff.
Jones said he began playing at Bowling Green Country Club when he was 5 years old and lived here until moving to Frankfort after his freshman year at South Warren.
“I just gutted it out,” he said. “That’s what you live for, to be able to be in this opportunity. … It’s definitely nice to be able to win on this track.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and [email protected]