By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
It might be a cliché’, but it is so true.
Ben Ramsey understands the key to success today when Graham participates in the Region C golf tournament at Draper Valley Golf Club.
“The team that has the best short game will win tomorrow,” Ramsey said. “All that matters is whoever putts, you drive for show and putt for dough.”
Graham has done both well this season, having ended Galax’s 12-year run of Mountain Empire District dominance by capturing the regular season and tournament titles.
That comes one year after the G-Men advanced to the Group A state tournament for the first time, finishing third behind Galax and Union. Graham was in a tie for second with Union, but lost in a playoff.
“It was huge for us to win the district and to get a chance to win a region tournament,” Graham golf coach Matt Dixon said. “To make it to state this year with no seniors would be a valuable learning experience for us.”
Graham will join seven other teams and 72 players at Draper Valley today in an event that was moved up a day because of weather. In addition to the G-Men, Dixon said the teams to watch include James River — led by standout Korey Watts — Glenvar, Giles and Galax.
“You can’t overlook any of those guys, we have to got to have four solid scores,” Dixon said. “Our margin for error is pretty thin this year, it is not like last year where we had a lot of depth.
“This year we are probably depending on four or five guys and it will take a team effort tomorrow.”
Leading the way are a pair of returnees, top-seeded junior Ben Ramsey and second-seeded Zach Toohey, who is also a junior. Both played in the state tournament last season, with Toohey earning all-state honors by finishing in sixth place.
“They got experience last year at the state tournament and they are our two captains, and they did a good job leading us,” Dixon said. “Our other kids have played really well. In high school golf you have got to have some depth and our 3 and 4 guys have did enough to help us win this year.
“They have come along, they have improved drastically from the start of the season and they just did a nice job and the other kids are improving too.”
Neither Ramsey nor Toohey are overly surprised to be in a similar position to last season, even though the G-Men lost six seniors and the four other players in Graham’s rotation this year played on the junior varsity in 2011.
“We knew our competition was losing also a lot of seniors so we knew we had a good chance,” Toohey said. “We knew our younger people had to come up and step up and help us and they have done that.”
Dixon had expected Toohey to be the top-seeded player this season, but Ramsey improved his scoring average from 82 to 74 and is now at the top of the rotation. Toohey is averaging 78 for the G-Men.
“I put in a lot of work this summer and it is really starting to pay off, it really pays off in the end,” Ramsey said. “It is just getting out here every day and doing everything you can to get better...
“At the beginning of the season I had a really good feeling about (this team) because I have seen a lot of these guys come out here and they have been working hard too. I knew we had a shot, but Galax is always able to come out with a surprise.”
Juniors Bradley Hicks (No. 3, average of 85) and William McGuire (No. 4, 88) are 3-4 for the G-Men, and both will be expected to help in Graham’s quest to finish in the top two today and qualify for the Group A state tourney on Oct. 10-11 at Lonesome Pine Country Club in Big Stone Gap, Va.
The top six players not on the first two teams will also qualify for state competition.
“We are going to have to play pretty good,” Ramsey said. “We still know we are probably one of the favorites, but we just have to focus and play harder and not let our guard down.”
The fifth and sixth players for Graham are freshman Austin Boyce and junior Josh Conley.
“We have been relying basically on four scores, that is why our margin for error is pretty thin tomorrow,” Dixon said. “We know that, but if our top two guys do what they normally do and if we can get two mid-80s scores out of our third and fourth guys we’ll have a chance to advance.
“It is going to take a team effort. It is not one kid that is going to win or lose it, it is going to have to be a team effort.”
Graham won the MED tourney at Draper Valley on Sept. 24, firing a 335 to a 337 for runner-up Galax to send the Maroon Tide’s long run of success. Galax has, however, won three of the last Group A state championships, and four since 2006.
“It was great, wonderful,” Ramsey, of defeating the Maroon Tide. “We were pretty pumped. We knew they had some very good players, we didn’t really know if they have any good players coming up so we just hoped for the best.”
The G-Men have gone as low as 312 on the Pulaski County course, and that might be what it takes today.
“To get to the state tournament, depending on the conditions, I think it will take somewhere around a 320 and a 310 to have a chance to get into the state tournament,” Dixon said. “To win it it might take under a 312.”
Dixon said that Draper Valley is a tough course that will test all the golfers.
“It is a fair course, Draper Valley is probably the fairest course you are going to get,” Dixon said. “Everything is in front of you, there are no gimmicks so the best two teams tomorrow will definitely advance.”
“I wouldn’t say it is a very hard course,” added Ramsey, who joined Toohey by shooting a 79 at the district meet. “It is very open, but there are a couple of holes you can really make a lot of mistakes on.”
The Graham golf team spent Tuesday evening at Fincastle Country Club, practicing for what lies ahead. A top-two finish today and Ramsey will be able to enjoy another state tournament experience.
“It was an eye-opening experience for sure. We lost a lot of people, but we are ready to get back there again,” Ramsey said. “It is a lot easier to play with a team not having as much pressure on you. We’re prepared.”
“We want to do good enough to go ahead and go to state,” added Toohey. “That is our plan.”
—Contact Brian Woodson