By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
William McGuire thinks he knows the key to Graham’s hopes of capturing a Group 2A state golf championship.
“I think the tournament is going to be won from 3 down,” said McGuire, a Graham senior. “Jacob (Britton) and I, if we play our game, I don’t believe there is a team up there that have four scores as solid as ours can be.”
Add Graham’s top two players — Ben Ramsey and Zach Toohey — and McGuire feels like the G-Men have a change to bring home the championship when the event is held today and Tuesday at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal, Va.
“I think what we have to do, Ben is going to play his game, Ben is the constant on our team and we are glad for that, he is going to play his game, and like Zach said, if he is focused, Zach’s game is strong...,” McGuire said. “The top scorer is good on every team...In state golf our top two are going to balance out and we are going to have to win it from 3-down.”
Graham last reached the state tournament in 2011, finishing behind champion Galax in a tie with Union for second before settling for third in a playoff.
Both Ramsey and Toohey played that year in Harrisonburg, with Toohey earning all-state recognition with a 73 and 74, and the much-improved Ramsey fired a 78 and 83.
“We do have some experience, but we also have some guys who haven’t been there,” Graham golf coach Matt Dixon said. “It is like I told them, the region tournament was bigger (in terms of teams) than the state tournament team-wise so it will be tough, but we are excited...
“Golf is golf, you still have to hit the same type of shot and just go up and have a good time and relax and they will be fine.”
Toohey still has fond memories of 2011. He’s looking to make more.
“I remember coming out on 17 knowing that the guy behind me was a stroke ahead of me,” Toohey said. “On 18 I chipped in for birdie and got first first-team all-state and I am trying to do a little bit better than that this year.”
Unlike two years ago, or even last year, there will be just four teams and 12 separate individuals who will comprise the 36-player event. That has dropped from eight teams and 72 players.
“We knew going up there a couple of years ago that Galax was clearly the best team up there and then everybody else,” said Dixon, whose G-Men will compete against Region 2A-West champion Floyd County, along with Buffalo Gap and Stonewall Jackson. “This year we are all about the same, it is a great opportunity and whoever shows up and handles the conditions well will come out on top.”
Dixon is confident in his seven-man team, which includes Ramsey, Toohey McGuire, Britton, along with Travis Simms, Austin Boyce and Dakota Jones, who will serve as an alternate.
“I knew we had two solid golfers in Zach and Ben, who had experience, but we haven’t lost a district match in the regular season in two years so these kids as juniors and seniors have put in a lot of hard work,” Dixon said. “Those (other) guys really stepped up and helped us depth-wise this year. I wasn’t surprised (to be here) because they put in the effort.”
Toohey expected the G-Men to still be playing at this point in the season.
“It is a simple as this,” he said. “We’re a team, we’re focused, we made our putts and we did what we needed to do and now we are heading to state.”
Britton added, “We have just got to go up there, stay humble and stay confident at the same time. Just go up there and play our game and I think we can do it.”
Six players will tee off for Graham today, with the top four scores used to compile a team score. After two days, a team and individual champion will be crowned.
“You have got to realize that golf is an individual game, we are playing a team competition, but you can’t worry about what the other teams are doing,” Dixon said. “Unlike football and basketball you don’t have a whole lot of control of what they are going to do.
“We can only control what we do and we will see what the other teams do.”
Among the individuals seeking medalist honors are the Richlands duo of Zach Luttrell and Dylan Sawyers.
“Anytime you have got some conference guys that you know locally you hope you do well,” Dixon said. “They are great kids, any kid from Tazewell County, they are all the same, they are all great kids, we come from the same community, we will be rooting for them.”
Ramsey won the Region 2A-West individual title, shooting a 72 and then defeating Virginia Tech-bound Amanda Hollandsworth of Floyd County in a playoff. Graham was able to finish second to the Buffaloes in the team competition to qualify for state play, one year after finishing a disappointing sixth in the Region C tournament.
“They have put their heart into working hard and wanting it and losing it gave them more of a drive,” Graham assistant coach Ann Lilly said. “They were tasting it, but they didn’t know how badly they wanted it and now they know.”
Dixon feels like the ‘home course’ advantage that Graham had at Fincastle for both of the Conference 39 tournament — won by the G-Men — and the Region 2A-West event has prepared them for what lies ahead.
“We don’t know anything about (the course), of course it is going to be beautiful country in the Shenandoah Valley,” Dixon said. “We know it is a lot flatter course, and we play on Fincastle, which is a very tough course so we feel like we are prepared for everything.
“The kids have played a lot of different courses so we are excited about the trip and excited about the opportunity to represent Graham High School.”
While the G-Men will play as individuals, the top four scores will be compiled into a team total, which is fitting for a close-knit collection of friends who started playing on the now-closed Richwood Golf Club.
“The group of people we are playing with right now, there are about five of us that have played together since we were like 11 or 12,” Toohey said. “We used to play at Richwood and ever since then we have all been together playing golf.”
Lilly, whose husband, Steve Lilly, was Graham’s golf coach until Dixon arrived in 2008, thinks that togetherness shows on and off the course.
“They are a great group of young gentlemen and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of working with them,” Lilly said. “Their ability to work together even though it is an individual sport, they all get along so well and interact so well with one another.
“They pull strength from each other. I think that is their biggest benefit, their biggest strength.”
That, and the realization that this is it for McGuire, Ramsey, Toohey and Britton, all of whom are seniors hoping to finish their careers on top.
“My senior year, our last chance, this is it, do or die,” McGuire said. “I am not planning to play college golf, this will be my competitive hooray here. We are going to go up there and keep our heads still and really make each shot count and play the best we can and have no regrets when we come home...
“We are going to play four teams in state and we are all going to play the best that we can and I think we have a really good shot.”
“We are excited, it will be a great trip,” added Dixon. “It is a great reward for these kids putting in the hard work in our program and those four seniors that get to go.”
At least one member of the G-Men can think of at least one other reason to be excited about a trip to the other half of the state.
“It is always fun to go up there with the team, miss two days of school and not see your teachers and play a little golf,” he said, with a smile, “and win us a championship.”
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